For “Decider in Chief” George W. Bush, the world was black and white. Good and bad, right and wrong, with us or against us.
For Michelle Obama, the world is also black and white. But her black and white is all about skin color.
She talks about it often, incessantly, even, injecting race and racism into speeches and events in which they have no business. And she did so again on Friday, when she traveled to Topeka, Kansas, to deliver a speech to graduating high school seniors.
First, a background note: Her speech was moved up a day after parents complained that her visit to a school district — just blocks from the historic schoolhouse central to the Brown v. Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation — would focus on race, not their children’s accomplishments.
And that, in fact, is exactly what the first lady did.
“Today, by some measures, our schools are as segregated as they were back when Dr. King gave his final speech,” she told the 1,200 seniors and their families.
“Many districts in this country have actually pulled back on efforts to integrate their schools, and many communities have become less diverse as folks have moved from cities to suburbs And as a result, many young people in America are going to school largely with kids who look just like them.
“And too often, those schools aren’t equal, especially ones attended by students of color which too often lag behind, with crumbling classrooms and less experienced teachers. And even in schools that seem integrated according to the numbers, when you look a little closer, you see students from different backgrounds sitting at separate lunch tables, or tracked into different classes, or separated into different clubs or activities.”
For the first lady, her glass is always half empty. Rather than use the anniversary of Brown v. Board to, say, marvel at the progress over the last 60 years and, say, point out that America has twice elected a black president, Shelly O instead chose to wallow in discontent and bitterness.
Again, the woman who said as her husband was nominated by the Democratic Party that she was “proud” of her country “for the first time in my life,” she wanted to make sure she maligned the rest of America as well, painted it as still stuck in the racist past.
“These issues go well beyond the walls of our schools. We know that today in America, too many folks are still stopped on the street because of the color of their skin, or they’re made to feel unwelcome because of where they come from, or they’re bullied because of who they love,” she said, throwing in a little gay racism to boot.
And she reveled in her own story, saying to the many Kansans gathered: “Maybe your ancestors have been here in Kansas for centuries. Or maybe they came to this country in chains, like mine. Or maybe your family just arrived here in search of a better life.” Just arrived? You mean, emigrated? Or “just arrived” by sneaking across the border?
The New York Times took the bait, as always. In a story titled “Michelle Obama Cites View of Growing Segregation,” the paper cited a federal report as proof of racism: “Today about four in 10 black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, the federal Department of Education reported on its official blog on Friday, adding that only 14 percent of white students attend schools that could be considered multicultural.
“We have slowly and very steadily slipped backward,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights. “All over the country we are seeing more and more racially segregated schools.”
Just for the record, that’s not at all what some family members of the plaintiffs in the Brown case think. Several met with President Obama on Friday.
“It’s our first African-American president, something that many people involved in Brown didn’t think they would live to see,” Cheryl Brown Henderson said in an interview with The New York Times, calling the visit “a manifestation of what they worked for.”
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.