reviews a book by Rachel Swarnes about the First Lady's ancestral family
. The work apparently includes stories about the slaves from whom Michelle Obama is descended, along with the freed people, workers and others whom she can count as part of her family tree.
Reading the review, what popped out at me was the following paragraph, criticizing the book:
A drawback of the book is that Mrs. Obama’s ancestors are presented as having an obsession with uplift. They seem always to be seeking and striving. One “stepped eagerly into her new future,” another is “poised to seize the widening opportunities,” a third was “nurtured by a family that strived for success.” Personal journeying is not what ordinary folks, swamped with work and kids and grief and laughter — and weighed down by the additional burden of racism — have tended to do. Striving is a sentiment we like to project back onto the dead.
Not to put too fine a point on it: This is an incredibly stupid criticism.
True, I haven't read the book. Nor am I a particular fan of the First Lady -- or her husband's policies.
But I do have unbridled admiration for the way Michelle Obama and her family have sought to work hard and rise in the United States of America. I suspect that Rachel Swarnes is absolutely right: Michelle Obama is from a family of strivers. And guess what? That is why, in large part, she is (and was prepared to be) the first African-American First Lady of the United States.
However much I may disagree with Mrs. Obama or her husband's politics (and I do), I unreservedly salute her ambition for herself and her daughters. "Striving" is how everyone who has gotten ahead in America has done so -- whether it's Mrs. Obama's ancestors, my mother's ancestors from England and Germany, my dad's from Austria and Russia, or my husband's, from Germany. Anyone who advances in the world by his or her own efforts is a striver, to some degree . . . and it is a label we should all be proud to embrace, rather than dismissing or disparaging it as Ball does.
America bears the burden and the shame of slavery. Along with that vicarious shame and regret, we can also vicariously share in the pride rightly felt by those whose people have raised themselves from the most degrading and ignoble of positions to make lives for themselves and their descendants of which they could all rightly be proud.
My suspicion is that Edward Ball, the reviewer -- who insists that "uplift" can't be genuinely experienced by those "weighed down by the additional burden of racism" -- is projecting his own emotions onto Mrs. Obama's family. Apparently, if people who have, indeed, been victimized aren't simply content to sit back and play the victim going forward, Mr. Ball can't quite believe their stories are genuine.
Rather than having cynical liberals like Edward Ball scoffing at the notion of "uplift," we should be celebrating those -- like Michelle Obama's forbears and so many others -- who had the guts and the gumption to transcend awful circumstances not of their making. It's too bad that our culture now emphasizes Ball's victimization point of view; lots of Americans -- of all races and creeds -- would be better off if there were more emphasis on "uplift" and less on victimhood.
Historically, America has been a nation of strivers. That, in no small part, is what has made us great and prosperous -- and kept us free. We dream big dreams here. And why not? This is, after all, a country that was founded on prayer, principles and big, big dreams.