Monday, March 9, 2009

Jacqueline Baptiste's review

Today we have a translation of a wonderful French review of Go, Tell Michelle from Jacqueline Baptiste, one of the Canadian Uncrowned Queens.

African American women as well as others from the Caribbean and the African continent express their deep and joyful emotions to Michelle Obama through letters and poems and stories. They are all elated with the arrival of the first African American First family to the White House. This compilation of letters and poems is a fantastic literary collection where passion mingles with history and represents a long continuum of evolution of African Americans from the ancestors until today. These letters capture events from slavery to segregation. They describe hard struggles for civil rights and the suffering that accompanied the struggle up to the winning of rights and the struggle for implementation and maintenance of those rights. They carry the reader to the struggles for equity, to integration and to November 4, 2008 and the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America.

The letters are very well written. The authors are lawyers, physicians, university professors, social workers, ethno-musicologists, community activists, university presidents, artists, mothers politicians and many more. They represent every region of the United States from California to New York, from Buffalo, New York to Florida and beyond. Letters came from the Caribbean, and the African Continent. On the African continent, they wrote from Kenya, Cameroon, Liberia and Niger and all these women talked to Michelle Obama with one voice.

They thanked Michelle because they feel they are completely represented in the White House. Unlike before, they are now ontologically represented. All dimensions of their being are represented in Michelle. Consequently, it is a total understanding that stretches from her to them. Through their letters the women honored the United States for this ability to effect such a momentous change. It is the only country in the world, according to these writers that is capable of such a major change. It’s the most wonderful country in the world because it has so many promises to fulfill and Michelle Obama as First Lady is one of those promises. These writers saw this change as an achievement brought about by all of the people because a broad and diverse group of Americans worked together to make such a change possible.

The writers addressed the First Lady with numerous titles. They called her Michelle, Your Excellency, First Lady, Sister, Auntie and Mother. The made numerous comparisons describing the First Lady as a song or a proverb and saw her as symbolizing human dignity. Thanks Michelle was a way for these women to recognize all those great “queens” who came before. Their sentences are powerful not only by what they express but by what they did not expressly say. For example, “thank you for the beautiful face of Black America you have presented to the world…What a wonderful picture you have drawn for the world.” We know too well how images of Blacks in the media are for the most part degrading and horrifying.

They wrote in many voices with a refined vocabulary which was elegant and sometimes poetic. It is the kind of book one has the pleasure to read alone or in company in the kitchen, out loud to a mother while she prepared dinner. One can start anywhere, read one letter and close it until the next reading. Even if one does not like to read this would not be an excuse for not having this book.

If I had any concerns for this lovely book, it would be that the book might benefit from a reading guide so that those not quite aware of African and African American history might be better informed to savor the full depth of the writings. Further, these writers wish for so much from Michelle and they seem to observe the First Lady through many lens. They already thank her for things she promised to do before becoming First Lady. This large expression of love is not without its dangers. Like each of us, Michelle Obama is a human being subject to making mistakes. She may not be able to hold all her promises. Because she is the First Lady for all the people one hopes that the passion expressed in these letters will survive expectation if those expectations are not met. One wonders. These are my concerns for this extraordinary book and I highly recommend it.

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