Did Michelle Obama heckler use coded racial words? Or not?

The Michelle Obama heckler said she was 'taken aback' at the confrontation, which some say indicated a perspective of 'white privilege.' Her group, GetEQUAL, said 'We value the first lady's leadership.'

  • close
    First lady Michelle Obama gestures as she speaks during a visit to Savoy Elementary School in Washington, D.C., May 24. The fallout from Mrs. Obama's heckling incident Tuesday night continued Thursday, as some defenders of the first lady charge that the heckler used coded racial language.
    Evan Vucci/AP
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption

The fallout from Michelle Obama’s heckling incident continued Thursday, as some defenders of the first lady charge that the heckler used coded racial language, and in general spoke from a perspective of “white privilege.”

These folks point to a comment protester Ellen Sturtz made after she interrupted the first lady during a fundraiser and challenged President Obama to fulfill a campaign promise and sign an order banning federal contractors from discriminating against gays and lesbians.

Rather than speak over Ms. Sturtz, Mrs. Obama left the podium and confronted the heckler in person, saying she’d leave if the heckling didn’t stop.

“She came right down in my face. I was taken aback,” said Sturtz after the incident.

What, did Sturtz think the first lady was just going to let the interruption go on, or hand her the mike?

Sturtz’s description of the encounter was a “breathtaking bit of projection and entitlement that also tiptoed dangerously close to the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype that Mrs. Obama has been dogged by for years,” writes Anna Holmes, founding editor of the feminist blog “Jezebel,” in a Time Magazine column.

Over at “Mediaite,” columnist Tommy Christopher writes that Sturtz and her supporters have taken lots of heat for “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.”

And at “Black Enterprise,” columnist Janell Hazelwood writes that “In 2014, that tired prevalent notion that any time a black woman speaks up – and it’s not to coddle, coo or sweet talk – she’s ‘angry’ or ‘aggressive’ is getting old.”

Ouch. We’ll echo Mr. Christopher here and say that it’s also possible that Ellen Sturtz was simply an inept protester. She picked one of the most popular women in the world to interrupt. Also, a woman who’s been viciously attacked by extremist critics in racial terms in the past, and who supports gay rights generally.

Did GetEQUAL consider that might not end well?

“We value the first lady’s leadership and invite her to lead the charge within the Democratic Party to end employment discrimination,” said the group in a press release following the incident.

And might some of the charges of implicit racism be something of an overreaction?

Sturtz might have been taken aback by the first lady’s aggressive criticism because President Obama, like many experienced public speakers, takes a more relaxed approach with hecklers. He often plays along lest he be seen as overbearing, while waiting for security to arrive. That’s the technique the president used with Code Pink activist Medea Benjamin when she interrupted his speech at the National Defense University on May 23.

“Like it or not, Michelle Obama’s reaction to Sturtz was a Michelle moment, not a stereotypical black woman’s touchiness or a South Side time-out,” writes contributing editor Helena Andrews at “The Root,” a blog of African-American culture.

Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.




Save for later


Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items


Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items