by Joan McGann Morris, WWHP and Oakton Writing Tutor
On Tuesday, September 17, 2019, at Oakton Community College in Skokie, Michelle Duster presented a special program, "Black Womanhood and Patriotism: From Ida B Wells to Michelle Obama." 150 people saw this engrossing and thought-provoking program.
Photo by Philip Dembinski
Like her great-grandmother Ida B Wells, Duster is not afraid to explore and raise questions on hard issues concerning gender and race. Duster spoke using a PowerPoint Presentation comparing how Ida B Wells and other Black women during her time were portrayed and regarded and how Michelle Obama was portrayed during the 2008 presidential campaign. Duster's slides gave compelling evidence that the media had portrayed Black women with negative racial stereotypes for over a century.
Most of the portrayal of Black women is unfair, distorted and skewed toward the negative. The news stories of both women used quotes taken out of context. For example, some of the media during the presidential campaign questioned Michelle Obama's level of patriotism. Duster reported the media excerpted a few sentences from Obama's college senior thesis from 23 years before, and used it out of context in order to distort her original point. They used the excerpt as evidence to imply that Obama was unpatriotic and painted her as someone who was not a "true" American. Then, Duster contrasted the media's treatment of Cindy McCain
the wife of John McCain during the presidential campaign of 2008. The differences in most of the media's treatment: news stories and images of Cindy McCain and the stories and images of Michelle Obama during the campaign were startling.
Duster said that most of the media showed Cindy McCain's images were flattering and positive; whereas Obama's images and news stories were unflattering and distorted. Duster noted that, "Many Black women experience the same type of caricatures and negative stereotypes. These two women, Ida B. Wells and Michelle Obama, were public figures, so the comments, images and insults are more highly seen."
Michelle Duster reported that many of her own experiences as a Black woman in this country, unfortunately, had not changed that much from her "great-grandmother who lived 100 years before her." In the last part of the program, some of the audience shared their own stories. Duster said one of the best ways to connect and heal the racial divide was to truly listen to one another's stories.