Michelle Obama on "ignorant" America

She was talking about everyone's stereotypes about other groups, and she wasn't wrong.

By Joan Walsh
Published March 28, 2008 4:05AM (EDT)

Michelle Obama has come in for new scrutiny, from Fox News especially, for remarks she made in South Carolina back in January. Some people are reading them as dismissive of Americans -- read "ignorant" white Americans -- but I didn't see it that way at all.

Here's what she said:

We don’t like being pushed outside of our comfort zones. You know it right here on this campus. You know, people sitting at different tables -- you all living in different dorms. I was there.

You're not talking to each other, taking advantage that you're in this diverse community. Because sometimes it's easier to hold on to your own stereotypes and misconceptions. It makes you feel justified in your own ignorance. That's America. So the challenge for us is, are we ready for change?

I read Obama's comments as referring as much -- or more -- to students of color grouping in their own dorms and cafeteria tables as to white students. On diverse college campuses, unfortunately, too often every group huddles in tribes, and a lot of students, of every race, remain ignorant about others. When Michelle Obama says "That's America," I think she's referring to all of us, not to white America.

Barack Obama is not out of the woods yet on these issues, especially because of newly discovered, archaic slurs by his pastor Jeremiah Wright about Italians' "garlic noses," as well as some one-sided remarks he published on his "pastor's page" in the church bulletin about Israel. That controversy might not go away. But this latest flap about Michelle Obama's comments ought to.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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