Friday, August 06, 2010

Michele Obama -- First (Black) Lady in Spain

Meltingpot readers,

I don't know where to begin. First, I saw this annoying article this morning that claims Americans are annoyed that First Lady Michelle Obama gets to have a lavish vacation in Spain while the country is in a recession.

Then I got annoyed when I started reading some of the 3000 plus comments that of course, have to rapidly deteriorate into overt racism in terms of justifying why the First Lady can't take a vacation.

But what's more, I almost did a double take by the line in the story that said that the State Department had actually issued a warning for African-Americans traveling to Spain. Seeing as how the story was on Yahoo, I didn't believe it at first, but I did my own poking around and found several references to this 'travel advisory for African-Americans traveling to Spain.' Apparently there was such a warning based on several African-Americans being unfairly harassed and/or arrested by Spanish police. The warning was indeed yanked by the State department before the First Lady's arrival. For a full account of that story, you can read here.

For some reason, knowing that the State Department felt justified in issuing this warning takes my anecdotal evidence of Spain's peculiar attitude towards Black people to another level of reality and potential danger. Not just annoyance. When the police are implicated in a country's racist behavior then one does have to take the warnings a little more seriously than those issued by an author and blogger with a Spanish husband. Will I still happily travel to Spain? Absolutely. I can't wait for our next trip. But will I pay a little bit more attention? Will my racism radar be switched on? Probably.(sigh)

And just to leave you with a question. If the US government warns African-Americans who travel to Spain to be careful because the Spanish police are racist, what kind of warning are they issuing for their own citizens seeing as how Black men get falsely arrested, shot, pulled over and harassed almost every day? Is there a warning for that somewhere on a website?



Walter said...

I found the yahoo article interesting, but the coments were the real eye-opener. Most of which were an overwhelming outcry in defense of the President's wife, because she is black. It stands to reason that any critisizm in her direction is going to be taken personal by the black community. However, its too bad that black Americans cant rise above their color and follow by example a man like Morgan Freeman and his interview with Mike Wallace:
Morgan Freeman, a man like any other who stands out above the rest and has my undying admiration.
Racial profiling isn't exclusive to Spain. We have it here in America, too and its not limited to black people.
Michelle Obama has every right to take a vacation whenever she wants, as should anyone of any color and station in life. However, as the Presidents wife, she has an obligation to set the kind of example we can all be proud to follow. Yahoo's slant on her is valid. The people in her defense, cite that its her money and she should be able to spend it however she pleases and this is as it should be. However, does the American tax payer know that it costs about $100k for the government to fly her one way to Spain? For you high end math nerds, a round trip is "times two" so do the math. The point made in the Yahoo article also points out that this is her 8th vacation this year, and the year isn't yet over, so at her pace, she could maybe squeeze in another 5 vacations. The average american is lucky if he can squeeze 8 vacations in one life time. I, personally, have worked 35 years, without ever being able to take 1 vacation. When I say vacation, I am guessing that this can be defined as going to Hawaii or Mexico for a week. Not once in my life have I ever thought that I could afford something that lavish. Yes, Michelle Obama is the President's wife, but we did not vote for her. We voted for her husband. You can call me a sexist pig if you want, but Michelle needs to get her butt back in the kitchen and show her husband a little support! After all, she's out having a good time on our nickle and left her husband to deal with his birthday, on his own. Michelle, see you in Toledo!

AnaCeleste said...

@ Walter, I watched the Morgan Freeman clip and agree as well that Black history is not something exclusive. Any piece of history that's occurred in this country involving whatever group of people should just be HISTORY, period. BTW, what did you mean when you said Black people should "rise above their color"? Although I don't use my color as any excuse for failure, as a Black individual living in America, I can't ignore the racial injustice and inequality that affect Black people and other folks of color, nor can I ignore the past struggles Black people went through (i.e. slavery, Jim Crow) that still show traces today and affect us in subtle ways. For example, as a Black woman, I'm continuously reminded in a subtle manner via mainstream media ads and magazine covers that my aesthetic is not desirable or the ideal. The majority of Black women chemically straighten their hair (I'm not hating, to each her own) because by living in a Eurocentric culture and society with a backdrop of race based slavery and legalized racial segregation (i.e. Jim Crow), we've been conditioned to believe that our natural hair is not desirable or attractive and that Blackness is inferior. Of course this is not true and early on I learned to recognize that these are vestiges of this country's legacy. Many Black women will say relaxing their hair is just a preference, but in a historical context, one must consider HOW this can come to become THE preference. Slavery was a race based institution and it's very difficult to have an institution like that exist for three centuries without the vestiges of such an institution still continuing on today. Sadly, racism is a man-made oppression and once certain patterns, mental manipulation, and language are in place to help perpetuate and feed it, it is hard to disintegrate. If "rising above our color" means to forget what it means to be Black in America and that we should disregard how our racialized socialization impacts how we view certain situations, then let me apologize in advance. How do you propose Black people go about "rising above their color" when we live in a society that won't let you forget that you are Black, historically and presently? While being Black is not the only thing that defines me, it is a significant part of my identity. Being Black is a unique experience. Rising above it, to me, signifies abandoning and rejecting a central part of who I am that, in many ways, has enriched my life. So instead, I choose to roll with my Blackness and let it continue to take me through a process of admiring and appreciating the struggles we’ve overcome and the contributions we’ve made in this society (numerous musical genres for example), while at the same time knowing I can’t be complacent ‘cause there’s still work to be done. While I admire Morgan Freeman, I disagree with him when he says NOT talking about racism will end it. While you admire Morgan Freeman, as a fellow Black person, I'm sure Morgan has not forgotten that he's Black being that he was born in the South during Jim Crow. Will not talking about sexism end sexism? Will not talking about poverty end poverty?

walterramjet said...

Dear AnaCeleste,

All I meant was that we should all rise above our color, in that all too often, we use our color as an excuse for our failures. Morgan Freeman wasn't suggesting that we should forget our heritage. His idea of "not talking about it" was just the first step. Each of us allow ourselves to be a victim. Each of us are responsible as individuals (regardless of color), to be held accountable for our actions and subsequent situation. Morgan Freeman only asks that you not see him as a man of color, but instead, a man. Just a man. Rising above our color will be a huge step in evolution, for people of all color.

walterramjet said...

By the way, I prefer natural hair. I thought straighting hair was just a fad, but it does seem to be lasting. Funny, white people with straight hair, cant stand it and eventually get perms to make it curly. none of us like the way we are, because we're always looking at someone else and find contrast in how we look by comparison. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Someone said that.

Shuggie said...

As soon as I heard about Mrs. Obama's trip, I kept checking back here everyday wondering when you were going to do a post about it.

I hope she and Sasha come away with positive experiences there.

I'm saddened by some people actually having the nerve to criticize that they are taking this trip. Despite the regretable economic conditions experienced by some in this country (including me, in that I lost my job), there are some who haven't been as affected, and the Obamas are one of those families - afterall, they are paying for their own personal costs. Even so, I don't hate on their ability to travel - I wish I could join them - I haven't been to Europe yet!

Unfortunately, the criticism just screams of racism (as in: "How dare these Black people travel abroad while we can't?") - They need to remember that the shoe has been on the other foot in this country for CENTURIES. To them I say: Time to get used to it and quitcherbiatchin!

Anonymous said...

Are people really that clueless? I dont care what color she is, is just plain wrong to put such a high cost on the american tax payer! I mean really she could not find another place to vacation, about the gulf region,.take her 40 closest friends there and spend some money,..but instead they go overseas and give up tax payer money while the country looms at almost 10% unemployment. If the Bush family had done this he Laura would have been tarred and feathered,.. I could care less that she is black but do care she is an idiot just goes to show how out of touch they really are with america. boy what a "change"

KayB said...

I heard Michel Martin's commentary on the First Lady's trip and agreed wholeheartedly. While it is her prerogative and well-deserved and I don't begrudge her, perception is reality and many people perceive it to be a little gauche at a time where the economy is still struggling to get back on track and where long term employment hurts so many. A domestic trip would have been great, but so it goes.

On to the State Dept.warning. I'm surprised there isn't one for France which is notorious for it's police issues with its youth population. In France, not sure about the rest of Europe, police are able to stop and question people as well as ask for proof of identity for no reason at all. When this happened to me, I was hurt, but was aware of the possibility. For American tourists of various ethnic descents, warnings, or at least the availability of, this information is important.

Will all of the above keep me from visiting Espana? No more than it keeps me from travelling throughout our great country.

alvaro barcala said...

I am from Spain and I was arrested and treated really badly by the american police while in the US last year because they thought I was mexican and I had not my passport with me at that moment. So, going to the US can be a big risk if you look foreign too.
Many of my relatives are black since some of them are originally from Portugal and they have never had any complain about being black living in Spain except for some isolated situations with certain kind of people. The same kind of people I had problems with because I died my hair blue when I was young, the kind of people who act stupid when it comes to someone who is different (not necessarily black), the kind of people who go to football games to spoil the fun. But those kind of people are everywhere, it is not a specific caracteristic of the spanish culture but of the whole world.
While being in Africa I was outstanding because of my appearance, getting comments every single day because I was the only not "brown" around and because of my outfit. But I simply didn't take it personally, those comments didn't mean bad, I imagined it was going to be like that since, yes, they are not used to spanish people, thats all. Sometimes it could bother me for a moment, but I was more worried about learning things from that culture and about myself than just focusing in race issues. I have lived in several countries and I can tell that every single day you get some comment for being different. But that doesn't affect me, I have simply learnt how to be a foreigner and keep my mind open.