Michelle Obama to blacks: Vote, then eat fried chicken. Is that racist?(Read article summary)
Michelle Obama was asked if blacks may eat 'soul food' after voting. The First Lady of Good Eating said it was OK to eat fried chicken. Was she being racist?
It's not Election Day without some petty controversy, is it?
Hot off the heels of gaffes by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, departing Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, and Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, First Lady Michelle Obama has inadvertently drawn fire from the right for comments she made linking the black community, voting, and fried chicken.
Speaking with Roland Martin, host of TV One's radio program, News One for Black America, Mrs. Obama jokingly gave the largely-African American audience permission to indulge in fried chicken after they vote, to celebrate a Democratic victory.
Here's what she said:
Martin: So can we, if we go out to the polls, can we say, we have ‘souls to the polls’ on Sunday, can we do ‘soul food after we vote’?
Obama: Absolutely, I give everyone full permission to eat some fried chicken after they vote only after — if you haven’t voted…(laughter.)
Martin: Just checking!
Obama: You make a good point because I am, I do talk about health. But I think that a good victory for Democrats on Tuesday, you know, should be rewarded with some fried chicken.
Earlier, she told listeners, “This isn’t about Barack. It’s not about the person on the ballot — it’s about you. And for most of the people that we’re talking to, a Democratic ticket is the clear ticket that we should be voting on, regardless of who said what or did this. That shouldn’t even come into the equation."
It didn't take long for conservative bloggers to pounce on the story.
The American Thinker characterized her remarks as "racial stereotyping that would get a white politician excommunicated from decent society."
"[H]ad Sarah Palin, Michelle Malkin, Marsha Blackburn, or, heck, even Mia Love or Tim Scott had made this statement, by virtue of the fact that they are Republicans, the Left would have a field day with their racist accusations and demands for apology," wrote the Tea Party News Network.
Though it was said in jest, as a motivation for getting out the black vote, the comment was doubly controversial for some: first, as proof of Michelle Obama's position as food police, as some on the right see her; and second, for its racial undertones, linking the black community and fried chicken.
The question at the center of the controversy: Can Michelle Obama, or another black public figure, make racially-charged comments about food that say, Michelle Bachmann, or another white public figure, cannot?
It's not the first time food has proved to be a source of controversy for the First family.
Last month, the Boston Herald took heat for a cartoon it ran in which an intruder sitting in President Obama's bathtub, asked him if he has tried the "watermelon flavored toothpaste."
Critics pounced on the mention of watermelon, arguing that the cartoonist was playing off a stereotype that African Americans are particularly fond of the fruit. The cartoonist and the paper both apologized.
Also in October, Bloomberg Politics drew censure for tweeting a side-by-side picture of the President and a mess of chicken wings, related to an interview on First family dinners. That tweet – of a black man and a pile of chicken wings, linked without context – also drew so much controversy that Bloomberg Politics deleted the tweet.
Of course, in this case, there's a reason the First lady was speaking with an African-American-oriented radio station on Election Day eve – and a reason why conservatives are using the opportunity to inflame potential voters. The black vote is seen as the last hope for Democrats to hold onto the Senate, as the New York Times explained in a recent article.
According to a confidential memo from a former pollster for President Obama, the party would suffer “crushing Democratic losses across the country” if it did not do more to get black voters to the polls.
"Democrats are deploying...prominent black elected officials and other surrogates, buttressed by sophisticated voter targeting efforts, to stoke black turnout," writes the Times. "At the White House, the president is waging an under-the-radar campaign, recording video advertisements, radio interviews and telephone calls specifically targeting his loyal African-American base."
“Anybody who looks at the data realizes that if the black vote, and the brown vote, doesn’t turn out, we can’t win. It’s just that simple,” Rep. Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the Times.
Which is why the First lady scheduled the 11th hour interview with News One for Black America, and why conservatives were listening closely for her to trip up. It's not about African Americans and fried chicken for either side – it's about voter turnout.
So far, however, it's not looking good for African-American voter turnout.
“African-American surge voters came out in force in 2008 and 2012, but they are not well positioned to do so again in 2014,” Cornell Belcher, the pollster, wrote in the memo, dated Oct. 1, reported the Times. “In fact, over half aren’t even sure when the midterm elections are taking place.”
The fried chicken fit? In the heat of Election Day, we predict it'll disappear faster than a bucket of...well, crispy drumsticks.