IN DEFENSE OF MALIA
When it was recently announced that Malia Obama got into Harvard (no small feat) and would be taking a “gap year” first before going to college, most news outlets were respectful, reporting the happy news and commenting on the proud parents of their Harvard-bound daughter. However, it didn’t take long for ugliness to rear its head. Fox news had to remove readers’ comments from its website after a slew of vile racist posts appeared. Of course, as we all know, nothing is ever deleted once it’s on line. I won’t re-print the posts here, but I will say that they included violent messages, racial epithets, and unbridled cruelty. The nature of the comments evoked images of white-hooded men with torches, only the torches this time were the poisonous words they chose to spew out into the world.
This, to 17 year old girl who has managed to retain her grace and poise in a fishbowl that most people can’t even conceptualize. It’s probably pointless to wonder how any of her attackers would feel if their daughters or sisters were treated like this, but one has to wonder because the cruelty is so barbaric, so over the top, that we want to imagine there is some shred of humanity left in these people. I will leave that as a question mark.
Then — on a less barbaric but definitely unfair front — Andrea Peyser wrote a scathing indictment of Malia’s plan to take a “gap year.” She wrote, in part, “This is known in some circles as a kid’s yearlong invitation to slack off, contemplate her navel, and tell the world, ‘I’m richer than you are.'”
Whoa. For all Ms. Peyser knows, Malia might be planning to do volunteer work in underprivileged neighborhoods, or work with the Humane Society, or perhaps an environmental group that’s trying to stop the widespread poaching of elephants and rhinos. Maybe she’s going to write a novel. It’s fascinating — and deeply disturbing — that people feel so comfortable judging and condemning someone else’s daughter when I’m sure they would be apoplectic if a stranger did that to their kids. And the idea that someone is fair game because they’re in the public eye is absurd. We are either driven by fairness and by the ethics of humanity or by an immature and unkind need to condemn; there is no middle ground here.
Sadly, Malia has learned some powerful lessons in the past couple of weeks. She has learned that racism is alive and well in America, and the n-word comes too easily to too many people. She’s learned there are those who sit back smugly, poised to tear her down and indict her for things she hasn’t done and may never do, just because she is part of a famous family. My prediction is, she will rise above all of this with more grace than any of her attackers could ever hope to possess.