Remember that wishbone I was choking on?

I just can’t seem to get it out of my throat, you know?  After my angry rant about The New York Times’  shocking discovery of Michelle Obama’s white ancestry, I thought I’d be able to shut up a bit, at least for a few minutes.  As if.  I was over at Michelle Obama Watch and saw this little bit of sunshine.*

First, let me just say that Megan Smolenyak is riding this train as far as she can, isn’t she?  Who is it that can help her understand that what she’s done isn’t interesting or cool?  Who is it that can help her see that her drive to uncover this ‘useful history lesson’ shows her lack of understanding about or sensitivity toward black people in this country more than it tells us anything about MO?  Who is it that can make her sit down and keep her enthusiastic mouth shut?

And then there’s Debbie Shields.  I can’t fault her for having a little frisson of excitement to discover that she’s related to MO.  But I’d expect to see that excitement die down as the reality of how she’s related to Mrs. My First Lady sinks in.  I’d expect her to have half a brain and not say something as unbelievable as: “I think it’s great. I would like to sit down and talk with her and share memories,  share photographs, stories.”

Share memories?  Share stories?  What kinds of memories and stories might those be?  Maybe they could talk about rape, about exploitation and white privilege?  Oh, good times!  I sure hope MO invites her over for tea and cucumber sandwiches real soon.  Maybe Shields should take a tip from her 17-year-old son.  If you click over to the Inside Edition story, you get to see a photo of Debbie and Brandon.  The caption claims that both are excited about the discovery of this familial link with the First Family, but Brandon’s face tells a very different story.

Can we let this go already?

No.  Let’s not.  Better than letting it go, let’s take reparations to a whole different place.  Whenever I hear white people argue against reparations, they say things like, “I didn’t enslave anyone.  I’m not responsible for what happened all those years ago.”  They talk about how there’s no way to assign blame, to determine who’s responsible.  Now, nevermind that individual responsibility has never been the issue when we as a country have paid reparations in the past.  And nevermind the issue of benefitting from the fact of the slave trade, benefitting from a culture that gave privilege to one group and steadfastly withheld it from another.  Nevermind all that.

Inspired by Smolenyak and the reporters at the Times, I think African Americans all over the country should personalize their reparations quests.  Yes, we’ll have to do a lot of homework searching back through our family histories to find the rapists and slaveowners in our pasts, but once we do … Well, let’s go look them up — historical records in hand — and ask for a little payback.

I need to get to work, find the Welsh rapist bastard responsible for my father’s family having this last name, and put in for generations of back alimony and child support.  And then I can start on my mother’s side of the family …


* Sadly the video has disappeared.  Maybe Debbie Shields finally figured herself out and was embarrassed to have it up.  But there’s a description of the piece on HuffPo.

7 thoughts on “Remember that wishbone I was choking on?

  1. molly

    This is a creative idea. Then, when all the calculations have been made, we white folks can ask for some government bailout, to deal with our family debts. Might make people think twice about digging into other people’s pasts and publicizing it without their permission.


  2. Girl Griot, I’m way ahead of you. Way ahead of you. All the “can’t we just get along” talk seems to get thrown under the bus when there’s a dollar to made by some exploitation story. Sad thing is, the so-called masses of America are just that insensitive. Of course Shields is excited, she has a link to the White House. The only problem is she, like most Americans, are a little devoid of a history lesson. If we want to move forward, everyone must NEVER FORGET!


    1. If I can find time these next couple of days (I’ve just left town for a conference) I want to post some of the conversations that came up with my students around this. It’s been a very eye-opening time for me, to say the least. I would take your last comment further forward. It’s not just that we much never forget, it’s that we have to learn the information in the first place. We can’t let the whitewash stories about romantic relationships be the dominant narrative, can’t let our history be denied the way African history in countries such as Argentina has been. The lesson has to be learned and then we must make sure it isn’t forgotten.


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