CHARLOTTE – One of my prized possessions is a T-shirt I bought at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Emblazoned on the front is a picture of Barack and Michelle Obama doing their trademark fist bump, along with the words, “The Real Deal.”
To me, that shirt captured the realness of the Obamas; a black power couple who had been tested by the struggles that many Americans struggle with, but who refused to allow compassion to become a casualty of their success.
That genuineness came through in a big way last night as the First Lady energized the crowd at the Democratic National Convention here.
She talked about her life with President Obama, their girls, Sasha and Malia, and their love and the ties that bound them.
Obama talked about growing up so poor that a special treat “was that we could sleep out on the back porch if it got hot.”
She talked about her father’s struggle with multiple sclerosis, and his determination to see that she and her brother, Craig Robinson, went to college – even though it meant that he had to do extra work to pay off the loans he got to help supplement the grants they received.
“He made sure we never missed a registration because his check was late,” she said.
Then she talked about her husband, Barack, a guy who once drove a car that was so rusted she could see the pavement through the floorboard.
“But when he started telling me about [the struggles of] his family, that’s when I knew I had found a kindred spirit,” said Obama, who talked about how the president’s grandmother was paid far less than her male co-workers.
Yet like his grandmother, Obama said, the president pushes on.
“He just keeps moving forward with patience and courage and wisdom and grace,” she said. “I’ve seen firsthand that being president doesn’t change who you are. It reveals who you are.
“If any family in this country struggles, then we cannot just be content with our good fortune, because this is not what we do in this country. This is not who we are.”
Yet as I listened to Obama lay out the realness of her life and that of her husband’s, a twinge of anger struck me.
It struck me because if any two people are examples of the American promise of opportunity equaling success, it’s Barack and Michelle Obama.
Yet throughout his term as president, right wingers have continued to paint them as less than American, or malcontents looking to sabotage the U.S. way of life.
From Day One, there was FOX News calling their fist bump a “terrorist,” fist bump. There was the cover of The New Yorker with a militant Michelle Obama sporting a gigantic Afro and carrying a machine gun and ammo, with Barack in a turban and Muslim garb.
And of course, there are the birthers who still continue to believe that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.
Or that he’s a socialist.
Yet everything in the Obamas’ lives show that they did what most Americans are admonished to do. They played by the rules, and they became successful by playing by the rules.
However, they haven’t forgotten that they had help; that besides caring parents, it also took grants and loans to help them get through school and ultimately become taxpayers and contributors, rather than burdens, on society.
So it vexes me that when black people like the Obamas are successful, some right wingers view their success as suspect; that instead of seeing them as Americans who know how to make the system work for them, they’re seen as black people who don’t know their place.
But my twinge of anger soon disappeared because in that one speech the president deployed a potent weapon in his re-election campaign. Even though, at the end of the day, Obama said her most important title is still “Mom-in-Chief.”
That alone, she said, makes the success of her husband, and by extension, the nation, even more important, “if I want to leave a better world for my daughters.”
If Obama keeps it real the way she did last night, chances are she’ll play a big role in seeing that happen.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at tonyaajw@twitter. Or visit her blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.