Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Dear Town & Country........Your Response Stinks!"

Now that the holidays are over, I was finally able to catch a breath this weekend and catch up on my magazines. I look forward to reading all of my mags, but this time I was particularly interested in reading the "In Your Own Words..." (their reader mail) section of the Jan '09 issue of Town & Country. Let me explain......

In the Nov. '08 issue of T&C, Holly Peterson wrote an essay entitled, "First and Foremost" in their "Social Graces" column. The essay's premise was to give advice to the then potential First Ladies, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain. It was supposed to be neutral, but it was anything but. It came across as putting Mrs. McCain on a pedestal, exalting her charity work and professional life, while reprimanding Mrs. Obama as if she were a child that needed to be "warned" to act appropriately in public.

Take, for example, the list of "tips" offered by Ms. Peterson:

Tips for Cindy McCain
  • Let your own personality and experience shine. You have a lot to teach us.
  • Your clothes are elegant and lovely, but find yourself a signature style. Loosen up a tad.
  • Draw on your career of giving back to motivate others to do the same.
  • Show the nation that the Republicans still know how to entertain with great glamour.
  • As a mother with children in the military, help us come together to support our troops.
Tips for Michelle Obama
  • Trust your fashion instincts. You are well on your way to finding a timeless signature look.
  • Be careful of popping off when your guard is down. Sharpen your internal editor.
  • Let the nation watch your children frolic on the White House grounds. It's been forty years since children so young lived in that home.
  • Highlight your race only when it's highly relevant or serves to deepen a discussion.
  • As a mother who has also had a full-fledged career, talk to us often about career and family. (1)
"Be careful of popping off...."? "Highlight your race only when it's highly relevant...."? Is this a joke?

But wait! There's more!

In the essay, Ms. Peterson writes:
Michelle Obama, aged forty-four, was raised in a working-class family on the segregated South Side of Chicago and ended up with prestigious degrees from Princeton and Harvard. (1)
Ended up? How about she EARNED those degrees, Ms. Peterson.
Unlike her husband, who is half Kenyan and half white American, Michelle is 100 percent African-American. As she tackles issues she cares about, she will have to make very careful choices about how, when and if she injects her ethnicity and upbringing into her platform as First Lady Her comment "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country" offended a lot of people because they saw how much good fortune America had bestowed on both her and her husband over so many years. (1)
That paragraph sounds like Caucasianese for "You people, especially you gal, better watch your mouth! You Negroes should be grateful for what white folks have done for you!".

And I'm not the only one who got that impression, which brings me to the "In Your Own Words" section of the Jan. '09 issue of T&C I mentioned earlier. Apparently, A LOT of people wrote them to complain about the essay. Here's T&C's response:

We received a number of letters regarding "First and Foremost," Holly Peterson's November "Social Graces" column. Written weeks in advance of the election, long before Barack Obama's history-making victory, the piece sought to strike a balance in offering suggestion on life in the White House to then potential First Ladies Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain --- without endorsing or criticizing either. Still, some admirers of Michelle Obama felt it did otherwise. One wrote: "The author's suggestion to Michelle Obama to 'highlight her race only when it's highly relevant or serves to deepen a discussion' was inappropriate and racist. Peterson did not suggest that Cindy McCain 'highlight' her race only when 'highly relevant.'... Being an African-American is not like putting on a costume you take off when it is convenient." Another said: "While reading the piece I nearly choked on the line about 'the good fortune America has bestowed on both her and her husband,' referring to Michelle Obama.... She is entitled to everything she and her family have worked hard to achieve."

For the record, at T&C we pride ourselves on celebrating the achievements of people of all backgrounds and experiences, and certainly Michelle Obama, our new First Lady, is someone we look forward to covering in the years to come.
I'm sorry but this response stinks. First, it appears that they tried to reduce the complaints they received as merely from "admirers of Michelle Obama". This gives the impression that we're a bunch of awestruck fan club members that think Mrs. Obama can do nothing wrong. Secondly, where is the apology? I was always taught that when you make a mistake, you acknowledge the mistake, correct it and apologize. Sorry, T&C but steps 2 and 3 are missing. It doesn't matter that Ms. Peterson "sought to strike a balance..." in her essay. It doesn't matter that she wrote the essay "weeks in advance". What matters is that your readers think she did not "strike a balance" and were offended by her piece, therefore an apology should have accompanied the response. PERIOD.

I'm disappointed in T&C. I've always appreciated that they strived to be more inclusive, and acknowledge that African-Americans enjoy reading about luxury, live luxurious lifestyles and have attain powerful positions in society. So, it's puzzling that they would allow an essay that insinuates that an educated, intelligent woman like Mrs. Obama, who has worked hard to get where she is, is some kind of affirmative action recipient who needs to mind her manners.

We shall overcome.....double standards.

(1) Peterson, Holly. 2008. "First and Foremost." Town & Country 162, no. 5342: 182-184.

(2) Brodsky, Sheldon, Jeanne Staves, and Tina Lustig. 2009. "In Your Own Words…." Town & Country 163, no. 5344: 18-18.

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