Outlook: Harsh Spotlight

Sophia A. Nelson
Peers See Too-Familiar Isolation in Attacks on Michelle Obama
Thursday, July 24, 2008; 10:00 AM

"We've watched with a mixture of pride and trepidation as the wife of the first serious African American presidential contender has weathered recent campaign travails -- being called unpatriotic for a single offhand remark, dubbed a black radical because of something she wrote more than 20 years ago and plastered with the crowning stereotype: "angry black woman." And then being forced to undergo a politically mandated "makeover" to soften her image and make her more palatable to mainstream America. Sad to say, but what Obama has undergone, though it's on a national stage and on a much more prominent scale, is nothing new to professional African American women. We endure this type of labeling all the time."

Sophia A. Nelson, president of iask, Inc., an organization for African American professional women, was online Thursday, July 24 at 10 a.m. to discuss her Outlook article on the daily experiences of white-collar black women, and how they mirror Michelle Obama's treatment on the campaign trail.

The transcript follows.

Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors

As well as being president of iask, Nelson is a corporate attorney. Her blog is


Sophia A. Nelson: Thank you all so much for taking the time to join me today for this live online discussion.

I have done a few of these in the past and always enjoy them! I would like to address some of the questions that have come up over and over in both the online comment section in the Post and in my personal email box. Over 200,000 of you viewed or shared my article on Sunday. So it is impossible for me to respond to everyone as I would like. So here are some of answers to some of your questions:

1. The title of the article was chosen by The Washington Post's editors and not me. LOL. But you have to admit that they did a great job in drawing readers to the article with such a jolting title.

2. I have written many articles defending Condi Rice as I too am a Black Republican female and admire her greatly -- sadly none were published by major news outlets when I submitted them. I know how John McCain feels with the New York Times op-ed flap.

3. I agree that we as women still have far to go toward equity in our culture (this includes Caucasian, Asian, Native American, Hispanic women), but the focus of my op-ed was on black professional women and our unique place at this time in our nation's history, given the spotlight on Michelle Obama as a potential First "black" First Lady. I also agree 100 percent that Hillary Clinton was not treated well by the media or by many voters because of her gender when it came to her run for the Presidency. It is sad, but she did open great doors for future generations of women and we should all applaud her for that.

4. I welcome all comments from all people, because that is how we learn and communicate. I do, however, expect civility in any exchanges. I will not respond to personal attacks, racial barbs or offensive language. I think we are all better than that as Americans and can treat each other agreeably even when we disagree.

Thank you for your interest in this important topic and for driving this important issue forward so that we all hopefully can learn to live, work and communicate better as human beings -- despite our race, class or gender differences. Thank you, and let the online discussion begin!


Novato, Calif.: Ms. Nelson, The Washington Post continues to give prominent space on its Web site to Ramesh Ponnuru, who has led the GOP's personal attacks against Mrs. Obama with gleefully cruel and bitter, mean-spirited comments. Just yesterday, he asserted in his Right Matters column that Mrs. Obama "deserves the criticism she's been getting" and that "if Sen, Obama wants critics to leave his wife alone, he should ask her to stop saying dumb things." Do you find it unfair that The Washington Post pays this man to unfairly attack Mrs. Obama repeatedly -- thereby generating the "controversy" in the first place -- then brings you on board to try to defend her?

Sophia A. Nelson: California thanks for participating this morning; it is pretty early on the West Coast:) I personally responded to Mr. Ponnuru's blog yesterday and I agree that he has not been kind to Mrs. Obama, however, this is America and his point of view is as valid as anyone else's. You would have to voice your concerns to The Washington Post's leadership -- but then I guess you just did:) Thanks.


Atlanta: Sophia, do you believe that America will have a hard time accepting a black woman -- particularly a strong black woman -- as First Lady if Sen. Obama wins the election? Considering our nation's history and the stereotypes you mention in your op-ed, I am not very optimistic. What do you think.

Sophia A. Nelson: Yes I do. That is why I wrote the article which is far broader in its context than what people want it to be. I cannot tell you the number of downright hateful and mean emails I received at my personal iask,inc. email account degrading Mrs. Obama and me for being black professional women. I mean it made me sick to my stomach to know that in the year 2008, we as a nation still have serious anger and angst over race. The picture of black women has not been flattering as I chronicled in my op-ed. It will take time to change that imagery, but Michelle can do it if she is to become first lady.


Summit, N.J.: Not a question but a bit of perspective on one of the talking points against Michelle Obama. Your intro alludes to her senior thesis at Princeton, when she wrote of feeling like an outsider and wrestled with the difficulty of integration. Apparently, from the critics' perspective, she should have just been grateful she was there and not uttered any discouraging words.

I graduated from Princeton right before Michelle entered. In that era, the university still was very early in its evolution away from being an all-male, largely upper-crust enclave for WASPs from prep schools in the Northeast. At the time I represented a kind of diversity -- because I was from a public school in the Midwest, even though I was a white kid from the suburbs.

At an institution where the traditions and structures of daily life (like Fitzgerald's eating clubs) were geared toward a certain class, I often felt like an outsider. How could a poor black woman (that's three things separating her from the old Princeton) possibly avoid that feeling? Princeton was a great opportunity -- as Obama also would say -- but anyone who criticizes her for grappling with the very real issues raised in her thesis is just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Sophia A. Nelson: New Jersey (my home state) -- I agree with you and want you to know that although I attended a large Public University in California (more than 40,000 students were on campus when I attended)only 3 percent of the student body was black on campus at that time. It was isolating for me and many others, so I can only imagine what it is like to have attended a school such as Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, etc with the backdrop of wealth, privilege, and "maleness" that you accurately describe. Thanks for sharing.


State of Confusion: Maybe I'm stupid, but a discussion of either Cindy McCain or Michelle Obama does not assist me, a 44-year-old white woman, in deciding which candidate to vote for in November.

Sophia A. Nelson: Well, state of confusion, again, my article was not about Michelle Obama per se -- I used her as a jumping off point to a much larger and more serious issue -- that of the state of professional black women in our modern culture. As for Mrs. McCain I have no issues with her she seems like a very nice woman.


Denver: In black culture, women seem to be more outspoken and opinionated than their white counterparts. My view is that many white women are submissive, as that's how many white men want it. White men, being the majority, tend to be arrogant and dominating. A Nancy Reagan or Laura Bush may run the house, but she always will look submissive in public. George Bush bought an old ranch in Texas and drove a pickup to make the electorate think that he was just an average American when he is one of the elite. The drone of the news media day in and day out is white noise, as the average American knows little about the issues other than a few sound bites from talk radio or late-night comedians.

Sophia A. Nelson: I think your observation is true for the most part. This is why I feel that white men are so upset and feel defensive in the home, workplace, academia, etc. They are simply not used to dealing with strong women. I think that is why there is such a "rub" between white men and black women in our culture. The reality is we are very similar in our assertiveness, and ambitions (I will get hammered for saying this :) ) and it is like an explosion when we come together many times. At that has been my experience.


Washington: Is there any chance at all that there will be similar navel-gazing scrutiny among the media of everything Cindy McCain ever has said and/or done?

Sophia A. Nelson: doubt it. Mrs. McCain took quite a beating in 2000 when her husband ran for President and lost to George W. Bush. I think all of the focus in 2008 will be on Michelle Obama because she is new and different as I have mentioned.


Carbondale, Ill.: In essence, this discussion can be boiled down to the following question: Does Michelle Obama remind folks of Omarosa? If the answer to that question is yes, then Sen. Obama's wife will not be an asset to his campaign.

Sophia A. Nelson: Interesting interesting point. I have no answer, but agree with you that if that is the case. The Obamas have a problem.


Fairfax, Va.: Your blog is named "Iammysisterskeeper," but from what I have read I think it should be changed to "Iammyprofessionalsisterskeeper." What say you?

Sophia A. Nelson: iask, Inc. was founded in my living room on May 22, 2004 officially. I had about 16 of my closest friends -- some married, some single, but all professional college educated black women gather to discuss how we could better assist one another and younger women with our unique issues. If you go to the iask Web site you can learn a lot more about why the organization has chosen to focus on "professional sisters" versus all black women. There are many organizations, many that address the issues of African American women as a group. However, as my op-ed points out black professional women are in crisis on many fronts and no one seems to be paying attention. Check out the Web site and blog and you will understand that we were deliberate in what we chose to focus on relative to black women. Thanks for the question.


Washington: Sophia, tell us more about the "invisibility" piece that you discussed relative to your experiences in the law firm environment. Thanks.

Sophia A. Nelson: Well this is very personal to me and many other black women who have had to deal with feeling "invisible" most of our lives, not just in the workplace. I would commend the ABA report to you from 2007 and from 1997 ("The burdens of both -- the benefits of neither") on black women in the legal profession if you are an attorney. If you are not an attorney there are many studies you can Google that will validate my points made in the op-ed. The new school of though out there is called "unconscious bias" which I think rings very true. It is not that white men or white women wake up thinking how can I "ignore" or "mistreat" black women or others today -- but it is far more ingrained in who we are as Americans.

Whites tends to gravitate to whites. People are comfortable with who they know, people from like socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. White men are more comfortable with white men. Thus, they tend to see their benevolent and consistent assistance of other whites in the workplace as normal. They socialize together -- golf together -- kids play together, etc.

However, when whites don't assist blacks or mentor them -- they do not see the inherent bias of "discriminating in favor" of the white males or females, versus actually "discriminating against" the black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American male or females. It is truly unconscious which makes it far more insidious than when we knew how people felt openly in the Jim Crow era. I hope this helps.


Arlington, Va.: Do you really think Mrs. Obama has been treated any different than other potential first ladies? I remember the "Just Say No" campaign by Nancy Reagan and the lampooning of her for it, and the commentary made about Mrs. Clinton when she tried to get our country on track with health insurance.

Sophia A. Nelson: Yes I do. I think I made a pretty good case for why I believe she has been treated differently in my op-ed.


Falls Church, Va.: "This is why I feel that white men are so upset and feel defensive in the home, workplace, academia, etc. They simply are not used to dealing with strong women." You're tossing around silly, overbroad stereotypes like this, and you expect to be taken seriously? Real people don't fit into the little boxes you've tried to create for them.

Sophia A. Nelson: I am sorry that too many people like you have no ability to engage in a serious dialogue about the very real realities that black people still deal with in America. Watch CNN's Soledad O'Brien's piece "Black in America" tonight (Part II) -- is she silly also? This will never get better as long as folks like you continue to stick your head in the sand and tell us that we "imagine" these things and that all is well in America for the privileged black folks. Come on...


Washington: Do you think people are attacking Mrs. Obama because of her color or because she's a woman? Also, why isn't anyone attacking Cindy McCain?

Sophia A. Nelson: I think that this is the crux of Sojourner Truth's rant of 155 years ago -- all Americans should read the "Ain't I a Woman" speech. That is the black woman's dilemma -- am I a woman first or black? I don't think I have an answer to that one but I have often suspected that my "gender" causes me more angst than my race. I am just not sure to be candid.


Laurel, Md.: We as black women have made strides to walk through the doors opened for us by the Herculean efforts of the strong black women who paved the way. It is amazing that in 2008, with all the work that has been done, those who send those hateful e-mails display their own lack of growth. Michelle Obama doesn't fit into the mold that some subcultures in America are comfortable with. Instead, she is educated, articulate, humble and such a beautiful woman. She has said the road she traveled was not easy, but she did it.

Sophia A. Nelson: I agree. "Welcome to our world" -- as I stated at the outset of my op-ed.


Washington: Do you believe that African American women's acceptance in the general culture will be enhanced by Mrs. Obama's contributions to politics? I believe much needs to be done in order to mitigate the level of sexism that many African Americans experience daily. I also thing that Mrs. Obama's heightened media exposure does much to raise the self-esteem of women in general.

Sophia A. Nelson: I think I have already answered this question--but in short my answer is a hopeful yes!


Fed City: What do these people want from Michelle Obama? She straightened her hair and got the "Laura Petrie/Mary Tyler Moore" haircut. How much more obeisance to mainstream standards can people ask? Arghhh. Grrrrr.

Sophia A. Nelson: I think what people want from Michelle is to be more like the traditional "norms" of First Ladies. It is true that Senator Clinton caught hell because she was educated and independent. She was the first degreed first lady -- holding a JD, of course. Eleanor Roosevelt was also not well-liked when she was first lady because she was an activist. It was not until after FDR died that people truly came to appreciate Eleanor. Michelle is truly unique, however, because although she is a woman -- and we have had 43 "women" first ladies -- she is a "black" woman and that is something we have never seen as a nation. She has a tough road to walk -- but time will tell whether or not America embraces her or not.


Washington: Hi Sophia. Why are you a Republican? I am trying but failing to understand how you could be. Thank you.

Sophia A. Nelson: I have been a republican since I was 18. I got involved in George H.W. Bush's campaign in 1988 while a college student. I was mentored by and met some really great republicans early in my life -- people like Jack Kemp, Christie Whitman, Pete Wilson, the late Jennifer Dunn and I liked their ideals. I am clearly a moderate republican--socially more liberal and conservative (very) on economics and foreign affairs interests. I could easily be a "blue dog" democrat I suspect (LOL) but I think party affiliations will come to matter less and less. We should all be voting for the individual men and women who will best represent our country in Congress and in high elected office.


Re: Gravitation: I can see what you mean by social worlds being different for whites and blacks. Geography is an issue, as well as family needs, but I disagree with you completely on the mentoring aspect. Your statement may have been true 40 years ago, but now the workplace makes a point for helping each employee move forward. That's not to say that personality differences play a role on how experienced employees share their time with newer staff members, but race and gender do not factor in when senior employees mentor younger employees. Have you worked in a major corporation or government agency lately?

Sophia A. Nelson: Read my article. Yes, I have, and you are just flat out wrong on this point. The stats and numbers in major corporations and law firms at the senior levels do not lie! Blacks and women have done well at the middle manager levels, but check out SES's in the federal government or corporate executives and you will see that you are just wrong. Thanks.


Redmond, Wash.: Hello, and thanks for the chat. Wouldn't it be more responsible for the media, any of them, to include the context of Michelle Obama's "proud" comments whenever they are mentioned? Within the context of her talks, those comments always were about the increased levels of political participation and political excitement that surround her husband's candidacy. I am a few years older than her, and even I was too young to think much about the McGovern candidacy -- which is about the only thing to compare with it. Taken in context, her comments are not at all derogatory. I really hate it when the comments are mentioned, and not the context. Thanks.

Sophia A. Nelson: As a lawyer I can tell you that context is everything. I agree I agree I agree! Thanks.


Richmond, Va.: You can't look at past first ladies (Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush) as proof that white professional women are more submissive than black women. None of those first ladies were professional working women! In the working world, I don't see any difference in assertiveness, communication or leadership between black women and white women. We have so few women in executive positions, let's not continue old plantation mythology by saying white professional women are more submissive than black professional women.

Sophia A. Nelson: I agree with you in that any successful professional regardless of race or gender must share certain qualities: assertiveness, leadership, good communication skills, integrity, etc. Thus, you are correct that there is not a big difference between black and white women in reality -- however, the perceptions and treatments are different because of race and this is just a historical truth.

Black women neither benefit from being "men" as the black brothers do, nor do they benefit from being "white" as our white sisters do. We have the burdens of both and the benefits of neither!


A White, Middle-Aged, Strong Woman: If you want America to stop with the stereotypes, can you do it first? White men don't like strong women? Give me a break. You've now lost credibility in this discussion.

Sophia A. Nelson: I stand by my statement -- I would love to share the hundreds and I mean hundreds of hate emails I received from white men -- calling me an uppity black b****, attacking Mrs. Obama and telling us to go back "where we belong." I was simply responding to a question madam. If you disagree that is fine, but again please stop with the personal barbs and attacks. You have not lived as a professional black woman -- I have done so for the past 21 years. Unless you have lived my life and that of others who are not like you -- please stop trying to tell us how and what we feel, and have experienced is not valid. Thank you.


Pennsylvania: I hear the phrase "strong woman" tossed around a lot, but I'm not really sure what people mean by it. I know my own personal definition; would you provide yours? Thanks for an interesting chat.

Sophia A. Nelson: Great question. The word cuts both ways in the black culture at least. I think my op-ed does a good job of defining the historical context of the word and how it has evolved. I think the word "strong" is a good word--but I also have mentored younger sisters to tone it down--dial it back a bit, particularly in relationships with men and in the workplace. Sometimes is comes across as too much to handle by more gentle or meek souls (LOL). Hope this helps.


Re: "In black culture, women seem to be more outspoken and opinionated than their white counterparts. My view is that many white women are submissive, as that's how many white men want it.": Please provide any factual basis for that bigoted statement. Are you talking about on TV shows? Sitcoms and trashy talk shows? They aren't real, and they don't reflect professional women. Let's get into the offices and boardrooms of America and see how wrong and old-fashioned that statement is.

Sophia A. Nelson: Umm, that was a question someone asked so you need to direct that to them, sir/madam. I think I tried to answer it as best I could, however.


Washington: I am a white male, and I admit that I have a hard time making friends with black women. I think one of the major factors is that I feel intimidated and guilty; I know that black women face obstacles that I don't, so I assume that I can't possibly earn their friendship or even warrant their respect, so I don't try. However, now that I've spelled that out, it sounds like an incredibly weak excuse, and I want to tell myself to just talk to people and stop deciding in advance how people will behave, even if that pre-judgment arises from liberal guilt rather than hate. Any advice for someone who wants to do the correct thing?

Sophia A. Nelson: First thanks for that candid and humble email. Don't be so hard on yourself. White men are not the enemy as I pointed out on purpose. They too are victims of our nation's flawed history. I think all Americans should watch the HBO series "John Adams" I loved it and it truly helped me to grasp how America was formed and what our founding fathers (all white men) were like as human beings. White men have been the beneficiaries of much privilege since the 1600s when our nation was truly begun. 400 years of things being one way will not be changed over night. However, it will take people like you who are willing to talk about how you feel "openly" that will help black women and white men move forward and play on each other's strengths versus recoiling from them.

I had one white man email me and ask why black men and white women seemed to be able to date so freely -- while white men and black women seemed to be more reluctant to do so. I found that to be interesting. I am seeing more and more white men and black women date and marry, however. Two of my best friends married white men and they are very happy. I think times are a changin' -- just not as fast as we may all like. Thanks for your honesty.


Washington: Sophia, I read several of the comments to Ramesh Ponnuru's blog about Michelle Obama, and while some came to defend her on her merits and the fact that several of Ramesh's quotes were taken out of context, the majority of the defenders simply attacked Ramesh (and McCain and Republicans and the GOP) as being racist. Do you think that knee-jerk reaction -- calling anyone critical of either Obama racist -- does more harm than good? Wouldn't it be better to say "you're wrong and here is why." There are certainly racists in America, but not all criticisms of the Obamas comes from racism.

Sophia A. Nelson: Great question. I agree that people should be allowed to be critical of Senator Obama without the "race card" being played. That is going to be a very difficult task for Senator McCain in this campaign I think. I know it is the GOP's worst fear because they have to run against a black man. You should see my articles in I just authored one on July 8, 2008 that dealt in part with this issue. Or go to my blog and see my writings on this topic. good question. Thanks.


Washington: Sophia, I thoroughly enjoyed the article. In response to Carbondale, Ill., we should note that Omarosa has been bitten by the acting bug, whereas Mrs. Obama is for real -- so please don't compare. I know first-hand how many of the black female (and male) attorneys are treated in law firms, and you covered this point well. I just hope your article will open the eyes of many white Americans to accept Mrs. Obama for who she is -- beautiful, educated, and a working mother trying to raise children the best way she can while her husband is on the campaign trail. We also should remember that she did not grow up in a life of privilege, so her outlook on America will be totally different from Mrs. McCain's.

Sophia A. Nelson: Good point. Thanks.


Media, Pa.: Soph, what role do you think the religious life of a candidate and their spouse play? Do you think this is an important criteria in determining for whom to vote?

Sophia A. Nelson: I don't. I am a Christian and certainly would like my President to be one, but this is America. I was a Mitt Romney supporter and I think religious bigotry against him being a Mormon knocked him out of the race.


Pennsylvania, again: "I think the word 'strong' is a good word -- but I also have mentored younger sisters to tone it down -- dial it back a bit, particularly in relationships with men and in the workplace." I would agree with that. I think people often confuse "strong" with "aggressive" -- they can mean the same thing, but not always. Perhaps "confident" would be a good compromise for those "meek and gentle souls" you reference.

Sophia A. Nelson: LOL. Agreed.


Anonymous: Raising strong, self-sufficient children who feel secure and loved should be a priority for black women. Trying to break barriers and open doors is important, but not at the expense of a healthy family -- do you agree ?

Sophia A. Nelson: Yes, 100 percent. Balance is the key and that is what I have committed myself to teaching young black women through iask, Inc. We are also at fault for where we find ourselves (70 percent of professional black women unmarried). Great question. Thank you.


Baltimore: How much does classism come into it? Michelle Obama didn't just grow up black and female, she also grew up in the working class. Many previous first ladies never held a job outside the home, and many of those who did (like Laura Bush) quit the moment they got married. How much of the backlash is similar to what Hillary got (how dare she try to make something of herself when her husband and children "needed her"?) and how does her achievement and pride in that diminish the decisions of women who chose the other way?

Sophia A. Nelson: This is a valid point and I think I alluded to it earlier in my email responses. I agree with you that class, like race is still a large issue in American culture.


Rockville, Md.: Hi Sophia -- great article. As an African woman, I find the current "silence" from organizations like NOW a little hypocritical and disturbing. Why isn't NOW speaking out more about the portrayal of Michelle Obama? Is it perhaps an issue of not wanting to comment on "race"? The press (especially Fox News) has an insatiable need for the easy narrative, "the angry black woman" as an image of the black feminist. Your thoughts?

Sophia A. Nelson: This is a very good point and I could not agree more. Yet. if you check your history dating back to Sojourner's rant in 1855 you will see that the history between black and white women has been a "strained one" at best. Dr. Johnette B. Cole former President of Spellman College in Georgia wrote a great book in the 1990s on this very topic. I forget the name of the book, however, if you Google her on Amazon or something it should come up. Thanks.


Still Missing the Point: As a white male conservative, I find both Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Clinton repugnant for the ways they act and speak, not for their races or gender. I would have voted for Secretary Rice in the Republican primaries had she run, so before you ascribe all negative feelings to "isms," you may want to spend a little more effort on the words and actions of the "victim."

Sophia A. Nelson: Mr. White, male and conservative -- I think you need to check yourself. Re-read your post herein and reflect on it quietly. It may strike you as validating the very concerns that I raised in my article and during this discussion.


Greenbelt, Md.: Ms. Nelson, I read your article about Mrs. Obama, and many others that have been written about her. I find her to be an intelligent, accomplished, hardworking woman who happens to be black. Unfortunately she has faced the "harsh spotlight" because of the very vicious nature of politics. Do you think Mrs. McCain is receiving the same amount of scrutiny she received in the 2000 campaign run by her husband?

Sophia A. Nelson: As I mentioned earlier, I don't think that Mrs. McCain will get covered the same as Mrs. Obama. That is tragic, because contrary to popular opinion Cindy McCain is not some demure, mouse of a woman. She runs her family's beer business, is a corporate exec, she is a philanthropist, and works with children around the world. She is quite the savvy business woman herself and the media is doing us as a nation a disservice by not bringing that side of her to light.


Washington: I think part of the disparity is that a lot of black women seem to feel "entitled." You might think of some as outspoken and strong, but really some black women in the workplace just seem to expect to be coddled, and if they aren't, it's racism. You can't come in late and then claim racism for getting in trouble for being late. You can't use words like "ain't" and improper grammar in the workplace and command the same respect as those who speak properly. Those black women who act properly in the workplace are then deemed as weak or "trying to act white." Thoughts?

Sophia A. Nelson: Well, I agree that if people are tardy, etc. that is not racism that is laziness and you as the employer can take action against that type of behavior. As for "acting white" that is a tough one but I hear you on that point. Thanks.


Falls Church, Va.: I am a young white professional women. I cannot believe the negative responses that you have received. I have not experienced what you have but am appalled that people behave like they do. I work in a very diverse group (Chinese, Indian, black and white) and do not see this going on, so I think progress has been made, but I guess I need to be more aware of what other people are experiencing. I personally think Mrs. Obama is a great role model for every women regardless of race. Thank you for writing this.

Sophia A. Nelson: Thank you for the support. I am not thin skinned so I am okay with what is being said. It forces us to "hold a mirror up to ourselves" as a nation. Hopefully, what I have received from some pretty angry white citizens is just the "fringe" acting out. LOL. I have received far more positive emails and support from whites, and many others. I would say it runs 80 percent supportive and 20 percent fringe whackaloos. Thanks.


Dorking, U.K.: Um, no, Jackie Kennedy had a degree from George Washington University having transferred from Vassar, and Lady Bird Johnson was a graduate of the University of Texas.

Sophia A. Nelson: Great catch -- you are correct. :) Thanks but you would agree that no-one saw Mrs. Kennedy as a strong, educated "career woman" right?


Jersey City, N.J.: Do you think that perhaps the "difficulty" between white men and black women stems from the historical relation that always has been shrouded in secrecy (loved his black mistress, but not in public, proud of being the chosen mistress, somewhat a mantle of honor for the woman if not forced), and selective rape, and forced familial relationships (baby daddy drama on the plantation)? Could it be that in the back of the mind, people know how powerful the partnership can be between the two, and that in itself is frightening?

Sophia A. Nelson: Well, that is deep and yes I do. I alluded to this in the op-ed by bringing up the Sally Hemmings/Tom Jefferson love affair. Which in itself is tough because President Jefferson was a slave master and she was his slave. The power imbalance is what makes their so-called "love story" difficult to embrace.


Re: But I also have mentored younger sisters to tone it down: Excellent point. Some younger women (of all races) mistake sassiness as strength. Talking back, verbally standing up for oneself is not strength. Strength, often is having the wisdom to be quiet. Our culture shows black women as smart-mouthed, saying "oh no you don't!" Real strength involves building consensus, praising others, making room for everyone and not having to toot one's own horn to feel inner strength.

Sophia A. Nelson: I agree.


Blairsville, Ga.: I can't think of many things more difficult than being a private person trying to support the public person you're married to without saying anything that could be misconstrued, either innocently or deliberately. Even Bill Clinton couldn't do it gracefully, and he's the best politician of our generation. Laura Bush showed great class when she passed up an opportunity to pile on. Michelle Obama makes friends wherever she goes, and I assume her husband doesn't want her to be Nancy Reagan, looking adoring and saying nothing. Do cut her a little slack, please.

Sophia A. Nelson: I agree that Bill Clinton also had a tough time trying to handle the role of spouse. I felt bad for him actually. He is clearly a progressive man for a man of 61 years old -- being married to Hillary has to be a challenge because she is so smart, competent, accomplished. Yes, I agree it is difficult in general to be the spouse of a famous person.


Sophia A. Nelson: I would like to thank all of you who participated in this discussion today. If you are interested in more of what I have to share about Professional Black Women and how we are perceived in America--tune in to CNN's Morning show tomorrow morning between 6:30 a.m.-7 a.m. EST as I will be doing a live interview! I was on FOX's Hannity & Colmes on Monday and have been doing a lot of radio since the article was published on Sunday. Please check out the iask Web site at we are taking new members. You can email me privately at If you want to know more about my political views -- go to and you can link to my blog from there!

Thanks again for your interest. Thanks also to the Washington Post for hosting this forum. Have a blessed day!


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