When I read about this on the huffingtonpost style page this morning, I shook my head in utter amazement. I couldn't believe it. Yes, the founder of the Black Artists Association, Amnau Eele, slammed Michelle Obama for not picking an African-American fashion designer for her inauguration dress. Here is what she said:
"It's fine and good if you want to be all 'Kumbaya' and 'We Are the World' by representing all different countries. But if you are going to have Isabel Toledo do the inauguration dress, and Jason Wu do the evening gown, why not have Kevan Hall, B Michael, Stephen Burrows or any of the other black designers do something too?"
I believe her criticism is completely undeserved. It really is.
Not because Michelle Obama is above criticism (no one is) but because the First Lady will have 4 full years (hopefully 8 years) to showcase the artistry and radiance of African-American designers. Think of all the State Dinners at the White House. Think of all of the Democratic Party fundraisers. Think of all the international travel to continent after continent. You get my point? She’s going to have 365 chances each year to wear the digs of African-American designers in high-profile settings – and brag about to the press.
I do believe there was an missed opportunity here. Ms. Amnau Eele, who leveled the criticism at Mrs. Obama, could have leveraged her position with the Black Artists Association to be a contact for The First Lady. You know, someone who could consult The First Lady about clothes and styles from both established and up-and-coming designers alike. Michelle Obama has a full staff, and a strong communications team in her office. So why not e-mail her? Why not fax her? Why not send her a nice card congratulating her on her beautiful dress, and letting her know that you’d like to recommend some designers for her next big event?
I just don’t get it.
Also, let me say this too: I really didn’t like the “be all 'Kumbaya' and 'We Are the World' by representing all different countries” part in Ms. Eele’s criticism either. This is a multicultural country. Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, and Arab-Americans also voted in earth shattering numbers for President Obama. Not just because of him, but also because of his lovely, enterprising wife – a woman of incredible charisma and unimpeachable intellect, and, a woman who walks amongst dignitaries and heads of state without losing that COMMON TOUCH. She resonates with the nameless, faceless, voiceless millions who yearn for an empowered life outside of the shadows and margins of society. Indeed, her agenda (children, education, and military families) is animated by the hopes of the millions who follow and support her - including millions of black designers.
Knocking The First Lady for choosing an Asian American designer and a Latino designer is very, very unfair. I don't believe for one second that the Obamas are going to leave African-American designers out in the cold. No one can convince me of that. I mean, of course Michelle Obama is going to wear dresses from black designers (she wears them throughout the year).
Michelle Obama is going to continue to reach out to different racial and ethnic groups for designers with great styles. She has to. Her position as First Lady of The United States mandates that she speaks to both the color-specific differences that make us unique (because they exists and are real) as well as the color-neutral commonalities that bring us together. The current composition of this country demands it.
But, I can't help wondering how things would have been if Ms. Eele said this instead: “I will continue to celebrate Michelle Obama’s wonderful, awe-inspiring style, and, through my group, and others, consistently suggest ways she can maintain that style through the creative visions of designers, representing the total richness of America’s racial and ethinic diversity. I want to help her in that process."
Why didn’t she say that instead?