Commentary: Are the Obamas Too Bougie?

Commentary: Are the Obamas Too Bougie?

Critics of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama has ramped up. And although they each come from humble beginnings, their current lifestyle has set them up as targets for critics who call them the dreaded “B” word: BOUGIE.

Published January 10, 2012

The Obamas have done well for themselves. Sensible minds would agree. They have Ivy League degrees, vacation in Martha’s Vineyard and own a spacious home in Hyde Park. And although they each come from humble beginnings, their current lifestyle has set them up as targets for critics who call them the dreaded “B” word: BOUGIE.

We’ve heard the word thrown at them before, but during an election, the charges have again resurfaced. More often than not, the criticism has come from the president’s political opposition. 

At a campaign event Saturday in New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took aim at President Obama’s assertion that there should be a clear pathway for all to be able to attend college and that every student should graduate “career and college ready.”

In short, Santorum said he is "outraged" that the president thinks "every child in America should go to college."

In a forum at St. Anselm’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Santorum said, “The hubris of this president to think that he knows what's best for you. This is the kind of snobbery that we see from those that think they know how to run our lives.”

Santorum has somehow found a way to paint Obama as an elitist for promoting college education. What’s baffling to so many is how Santorum could refute what has been widely accepted as the most dependable gateway into the middle class.

Many studies including, Georgetown University’s Center of Education and the Workforce’s report “The College Payoff” find that the average American is likely to earn more over the course of a lifetime with a college degree. 

But during a season when the candidates’ words are facing harsh scrutiny, college becomes political fodder for a narrative about the Obama’s elitism.

First Lady Michelle Obama has also come under fire recently in a scathing caricature which is inspired by an original painting of notorious Queen Marie Antoinette, of France. The image on right-wing website Gateway Pundit shows the First Lady perched on a thrown. Mrs. Obama is shown with a muscular arm, pointing to a globe with a caption that reads, “Choosing the next vacation.”

No doubt, the picture is a reference to Mrs. Obama’s 2010 European trip, which was viewed by some as an exorbitant, even inappropriate, expense, out of step with the rest of America.  


But the Los Angeles Times assessment of the cartoonish image went a bit further. According to the article, “The caricature of Obama as a profligate queen relies on the racist stereotype of an 'uppity Negro,' which emerged among slave masters in an earlier American era.”

It remains to be seen if racism is what truly motivated Santorum’s remarks or the image of the first lady as a queen. But it is at least true that politics is playing a major role in this right-wing narrative about the Obamas. If the Obama’s reputation as a populist president can somehow be dismantled, Republicans can gain political ground with blue-collar voters.

The Obamas often run into problems when they don’t line up exactly with pre-conceived notions of what “the average American” is. In an attempt to gain “everyman points,” it appears that their ability to relate is under attack again.

I wonder how shocked average Americans will be to learn that education and travel are the domain of "the bougie." That label won’t be an easy fit for them in much the same way that it doesn’t easily fit the first family.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Jim Young/Reuters)

Written by Andre Showell


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