Source: Tommy Christopher / Mediaite
The mainstream media’s narrative about First Lady Michelle Obama‘s handling of a hecklerhas largely been positive, but has also ignored the role of race in the incident, and its aftermath. Online, however, protester Ellen Sturtz and her supporters have been taking criticism over their perceived sense that interrupting Michelle Obama is not only something they’re entitled to do, but that Mrs. Obama somehow should have welcomed. The source of that sense of entitlement, the theory goes, is white privilege.
It’s no wonder that this facet of the heckling incident has been ignored by the mainstream media. White privilege is even more elusive to them than barely-coded racism, because the mainstream media’s point of view is overwhelmingly white. White privilege is like Palmolive; most white people don’t even know they’re soaking in it until Madge tells them they are, and even then, they don’t believe it. That denial is only strengthened when the person is, themselves, part of a persecuted minority.
In this case, Ellen Sturtz exercised her First Amendment right to interrupt Michelle Obama during a speech, and her right to do so is not in question. Whether it was a good idea is a separate question. She was agitating for an executive order banning discrimination by federal contractors, which can arguably be seen as an incremental step in the direction of the Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA). As a beneficiary of straight white privilege, I can only offer my opinion, of limited value, that President Obama seems to have demonstrated that in his case, executive action tends to energize opposition. Patiently pursuing a durable solution instead has tended to work out better. Once again, that’s easy for me to say, since I already have the right to marry, and not be fired over my sexual identity, with the added bonus of ready access to taxicabs.
Also separate from this equation is the wisdom of targeting one of the most well-liked women in the country (despite years of vicious, unquestionably racial attacks by detractors), who is married to the president who has accomplished more for gay rights than any other in history. Throwing glitter on Michele Bachmann may not be all that effective, but at least it makes sense. On the other hand, we’re talking about the issue (although we should be pressing for ENDA, not an executive order), and even allies need to be pressed. From a PR standpoint, though, Mrs. Obama was the wrong choice.
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