I am not totally sure how to respond to this commentary on CNN about Michelle Obama’s choice to stay at home during the presidency of Barack Obama. I don’t want to be too hard on it, because I do think on one level highlighting that there are also women of color that stay at home and sometimes feel isolated and alienated so they should build relationships, well that is great. Having the resources to be a stay at home is even better. However, suggesting that you should stay home to do it for the betterment of the country and to uphold traditional values-well that is just not OK.
She makes an apt argument about black women taking care of wealthy white people’s children.
From breast-feeding to bathing to rocking them, the women tended their owners’ children, while not being allowed to lavish such attention on their own. Long after slavery was over, little changed in this dynamic.
It was common for black women to leave their own children at home to fend for themselves and go to work for low wages as domestics in the homes of well-off white families. As African-Americans have gotten more opportunities, a college degree has been a ticket to the career ladder. Period. Devoting full time to motherhood is considered a waste of education by many in the black community.
And while I think there is some cultural impetus for black women working outside the home, I think more times than not, it is class privilege that gives people the ability or idea to “stay at home.”
Outside of the class assumptions behind the idea of the “stay-at-home” mom, I don’t necessarily think that Michelle Obama’s choice to stay home is a win for us women of color that are just looking for a role model to let us know we can stay at home nor does it disrupt the racist idea that only white women stay at home. I think it feeds into antiquated notions of motherhood that make her more palatable to a wide audience suggesting that yes, she disrupts the idea of the “normal” American by being black, but is as American as apple pie, by staying in the home.