The sight is already permanently etched in our nation’s psyche: standing on the steps of the Capitol’s West Front on the day after the nation honored Martin Luther King Jr., his hand on the Bible once owned by the president who abolished slavery, Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president. To many, including the candidate himself, his inauguration was a sign that America had transcended its racist past.
Yet even as people continued to talk about Aretha Franklin’s Church Lady hat, as the literati debated the style and meaning of Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem, as the first couple danced together while Beyonce Knowles sang Etta James’ immortal tune, the Black Artists Association was already seeing red over the fact that Michelle Obama wore a white dress created by an Asian designer.
According to the association’s cofounder, Amnau Eele, the first lady had an obligation to represent her race through her fashion choices for the momentous occasion.
It’s one thing to look at the world without color but she had seven slots to wear designer clothes. Why wasn’t she wearing the clothes of a black designer? That was our moment.
To many within the black community, Inauguration Day represented so much more than a change in governmental administration. For some, it was a day on which healing America’s racist past truly began. Another described it as a day of brotherhood between the races. So how, many wonder, could the first lady have neglected to reflect that moment by consciously choosing a black designer?
Such are the contradictory pressures the first couple now face: to not only fulfill Barack Obama’s campaign promises — including his promise of a post-racial presidency — but to raise the profile of other black Americans as well.