Time magazine is still thrilled to present Barack Obama as the First Black President, even although his time in office has almost elapsed. In the March 28 issue, they devoted five pages to a softball interview with Obama and Misty Copeland, the first black principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre.
Time’s Maya Rhodan began by announcing to this pioneering duo that “My hope is that this is more of a conversation than an interview. So we’ll just let you guys talk. I’m going to be obviously jumping in with questions. But we want it to be natural and fun.”
Rhodan promoted this conversation as terrific: “The two leaders of their respective professions shared stories and confessions about how they have confronted discrimination, how they view the pressure on women and girls, and what they are doing to help the next generation avoid the same obstacles they confronted as children.”
The headline was “Across generations and professions, a President and a prima ballerina talk about race, beauty, and breaking barriers. [Bolding is theirs.]
This pull quote summarized how Time wanted to promote Obama as a great, female-sensitive guy:
“The fact they’ve got a tall, gorgeous mom who has some curves, and their their father appreciates, I think is helpful.” – Barack Obama [Again, bolding theirs.]
On page 8, Time acknowledged this was not their idea: "In February, White House aides approached TIME about facilitating a conversation between Obama and American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland, both of whom are past TIME 100 honorees." In that note, Rhodan added gush: "I wasn't expecting the president to be so candid about his experiences as a father and husband." In the video, Time adds treacly piano music to build sympathy.
Rhodan began with this obvious softball: “You’re both born into multiracial families, you were raised by single mothers. And you’ve risen to the top of your respective fields as African Americans. Which is pretty notable. But I’m curious, what do you see in each other that you recognize in yourself? Like what is it, and is there a common thread that has allowed you both to succeed?”
Oddly, Copeland suggested she and Obama were both deeply imbued with humility: “I think that there is a sense of humbleness and humility, and there’s a human that’s within you. And I think that that’s something that I can relate to and connect with that people are drawn to. And they feel this genuineness coming from you.”
It’s always great to look humble when Time magazine is presenting you as vaguely Christ-like: “Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope."
This allowed Obama to act humble about how the media greeted his 2004 convention speech with grand huzzahs:
OBAMA: I don’t know how it felt for you, but certainly for me, you know probably I burst out onto the national scene with the Democratic Convention speech of 2004. And that was the first time that I had a big national audience. And everybody responded really favorably. And so I got a lot of attention and interviews and magazine pieces and all this stuff. And I still remember telling Michelle and my closest friends, I said I’m not any smarter today than I was last week, right. In some ways, when you struggle for a while, and you’ve had the ability of being an ordinary person and you’ve gone shopping, changed diapers and tried to figure out how to pay the bills and so forth, so that you’re not some overnight success. Then handling some of these issues ends up being easier because you have a better sense of perspective.
And this was the president’s broader answer on women and their body-confidence issues, after Rhodan asked how he deals with it as a father of two daughters:
OBAMA: I mean some of this is just gender issues, generally. I mean when you’re a dad of two daughters you notice more. When I was a kid I didn’t realize as much, or maybe it was even a part of which is the enormous pressure that young women are placed under in terms of looking a certain way.And being cute in a certain way. And are you wearing the right clothes? And is your hair done the right way. And that pressure I think is historically always been harder on African American women than just about any other women. But it’s part and parcel of a broader way in which we socialize and press women to constantly doubt themselves or define themselves in terms of a certain appearance. And so Michelle and I are always guarding against that.
And the fact that they’ve got a tall gorgeous mom who has some curves, and that their father appreciates, I think is helpful. I do think that culture’s changing for the younger generation a little bit more. You see Beyonce or you see some of these pop stars and what both white, Latino, black children are seeing as representative of beauty is much broader than it was when I was a kid.
The gushy package could be listed as six pages, since a commentary by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar followed that promoted both pioneers:
Two shining role models of how diligence, discipline and perseverance can overcome even the most daunting obstacles to achieve the American Dream. But being a black role model is a double-edged sword of inspiration and frustration.
Yes, you are an inspiration to children of color—living proof that although you face a lot of closed doors, they aren’t all locked. For Barack Obama, the doors were double-locked: no black person had ever been President, and no one from Hawaii had ever been President. So too for Misty Copeland: she started ballet at 13—late for a dancer—and had the “wrong” body type. Yet somehow they both rolled the Sisyphean rock of being black to the top of the mountain, and it stayed.
He concluded they were “role models not just for people of color but for all Americans.” He also trashed George W. Bush:
Role models of color face a unique form of judgment. If you’re black and you fail, many will claim you failed because blacks aren’t up to the task. But if you’re black and you succeed, they will then claim that you succeeded because you’re black and were given an advantage. You are not allowed to succeed or fail on your own merits. Yet if George W. Bush is judged to be a bad President, no one says, “Well, we tried a white guy and it didn’t work, so no more white Presidents.” Or Southerners. Or Texans. Or self-portraitists in the shower.