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Senegalling

Jul 8, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 41 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Senegal is an impoverished West African country where some 26 percent of the population subsists on less than $1 a day. Nearly one in five children there are malnourished. In the country’s rural areas, fewer than half the children regularly attend school.

Basically, Senegal is nothing like the United States, the richest country in the history of the world. And yet, speaking last week to a group of Senegalese schoolchildren during the Obamas’ whirlwind trip through Africa, first lady Michelle Obama likened her upbringing to that of Senegalese children:

“I know that some of you may be the first in your families to attend a school .  .  . so there might be people at home who don’t quite understand what you’re going through as you work to succeed here,” she said. “I know a little bit about this from my own experience. See, like many of you, I didn’t grow up in a family with a lot of money.”

Of course, not only did Michelle Obama grow up in prosperous 20th-century America, she was also raised in solidly middle-class surroundings. Her father was an engineer at a Chicago water plant who earned more than $40,000 a year—substantially more than, say, the public school teachers of that era. Her mother was a homemaker. The family lived in a pleasant detached house. To liken her relatively privileged upbringing to the immiserated conditions of West African children was a galling bit of rhetorical overreach.

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