Bravetta Hassell: To be mistaken for Michelle Obama is quite a compliment
BY BRAVETTA HASSELL World Scene Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2013
1/27/13 at 3:37 AM
A little boy once told me he thought I was Michelle Obama.
I'm guessing it was my hairstyle at the time, the fact that I was black and that I was wearing a suit.
Goodness. I didn't favor her one bit, but I turned away and smiled.
An afrocentric girlfriend scoffed at my retelling of the story, but honestly I thought it was rather sweet.
It was art class, the kid was in the fourth grade, and in going to sit down on the classroom carpet for me to take roll - I was substituting then - he had made a snap generalization.
Michelle Obama? Whodduthunk it? I wouldn't fault him.
As much as people of color - people in general - don't want to be mistaken for someone else simply because they look a certain way, who wouldn't want to be mistaken for someone as widely received as the 49-year-old woman who had just watched her husband be sworn in for his second term as president of the United States?
She's stylish and stately, intelligent and outspoken, classy, confident, strong and yet gentle. Feminine and independent. Powerful. Beautiful. A role model. Woman, mother, wife. Influential. Icon.
Many people piled on to buses to see Barack Obama be publicly sworn in, but Michelle-watchers waited in anticipation to see what the first lady would do and wear next.
Yes, wear, just wear. But it's not just her sense of fashion that's got our attention.
For myriad reasons, few women of color have achieved the range of public presence, acclaim and popularity as Michelle Obama. I count Oprah Winfrey quickly; the others I give you to name. And it's not because such women like Michelle (yes, I'm taking the liberty of calling her by her first name) do not exist.
Oh, they exist.
They are our girlfriends, mothers, aunts, mentors, sisters, the women whose successful traits we admire and hope to emulate or at least inspire us in the way we pursue our dreams and live our lives. They exist.
In every shape and color, from both the humblest and most affluent beginnings, fashionable or not, these women do exist - though, no doubt, many are unsung.
It's just that Michelle is sung now, and many, I would argue, are all the better for it: the Tulsa teenager Monae King who showed me sketches of gowns she'd love to make for the first lady. The old, blue-haired ladies who - perhaps a bit annoyingly - are just so taken by "that Michelle." And the little boy in the fourth grade who briefly (and laughably) mistook me for the first lady, herself.
And he wasn't black, and he wasn't white. That the name of such a person was on his tongue so readily was enough for me.
Whether Michelle Obama actually "has it all" is debatable - only she knows that. Still, in her stature, she is a representation that many more of us have "it" than was previously thought. It's a new point of reference that I welcome: a woman of color celebrated for the type of qualities I so look forward to nurturing in my own daughter somewhere in the future.
There will be more Michelles. There are more Michelles. They aren't necessarily wearing Thom Browne with J. Crew, their pictures splashed across popular women's magazines, their place in cultural memes mused upon in many an essay... No. But they exist.
"Michelle Obama, young man?" Is that so? I wouldn't take offense.
Here was a mistake I would graciously and with pleasure look past.
Original Print Headline: To be mistaken for the first lady is quite a compliment
Who wouldn't want to be mistaken for someone as widely received as Michelle Obama? PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/Associated Press