By DeWayne Wickham
In a few days, Time magazine will name its "Person of the Year” – something it has been doing since 1927. Today, for the first time, I'm naming my choice for "American of the Year."
Time's award is given annually to the person who "has done the most to influence the events of the year." Mine goes to someone who, through deeds or inspiration, makes this nation a better place.
For a lot of people, President-elect Barack Obama would be a no-brainer for Time's honor.
During the 80 years Time has handed out its award, most of the recipients have been national leaders in the U.S. and abroad. He is, after all, a politician unlike any this nation has seen. When Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20, he'll become America's first black president — a startling feat that comes four decades after the Kerner Commission warned that this nation was in danger of becoming "two societies, one black, and one white— separate and unequal."
Obama forged an interracial, multiethnic coalition that lifted him to a sweeping victory that was remarkable for many reasons — not the least of which is that he rewrote the campaign-financing record book by raising more than $745 million and dramatically altered the political campaign playbook with his ingenious use of the Internet.
Since his election, Obama has impressed Democrats, Republicans and independents with appointments he has made to key positions. His administration, it appears, will reflect the nation's diversity. And so it should come as no surprise if Time picks Obama as its "Person of the Year."
What might surprise you is that he is not my pick for "American of the Year." The first recipient of my annual acknowledgement of a person who has done something to improve the lives of people in this country, or given us the inspiration to make America a better place, is Michelle Obama.
In his winning presidential campaign, Obama helped a nation traumatized by the events of the past eight years heal its wounds. As his partner in marriage and his political life, Michelle Obama had an even bigger impact this year. She debunked the myth of the black woman. She is not a welfare mother, an angry woman, or an overachieving can't-find-a-good-man sista. Obama said his wife is his "rock" — the strong, steadying force in his life. But for many black women, Michelle Obama is their "everywoman."
She is the well-educated black wife and mother that Hollywood won't acknowledge and much of white America hasn't discovered. She's a black woman with wide hips and an occasional bad hair day who moved Erin Aubry Kaplan to say in a Salon.com article: "Barack's better half not only has stature but is statuesque," the black essayist writes. "She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and ... a butt."
While such descriptions of Michelle Obama might make some people uncomfortable, it goes to the heart of what makes a lot of black women rave as much about her becoming first lady as they do her husband's becoming president. She looks more like them than Halle Berry or Beyonce does.
Obama's election ends the long monopoly white men have had on this country's highest office. But as the loyal partner in his life, Michelle Obama shows the world the strength that many black women possess. And, in doing so, she salves the centuries-old wounds of the millions of black women who have been victimized and marginalized by negative stereotypes.
For all these reasons, Michelle Obama is my "American of the Year."