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The First Lady, A Heckler And Public Dissent

The first lady was confronted by a heckler at a private event in Washington on Tuesday.
Evan Vucci
The first lady was confronted by a heckler at a private event in Washington on Tuesday.

When Michelle Obama squared off with a heckler at a private fundraiser last night, the racial context was hard to ignore: a white woman yelling at the country's most visible black woman and that same black woman offering a pointed response.

The first lady has been enormously popular throughout her husband's administration — nearly seven in 10 Americans say they think she's doing a good job — and she's an icon among black people as the first African American first lady.

Ellen Sturtz, the heckler, is affiliated with the group GetEqual. She was demanding that the White House put its weight behind the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban discrimination against LGBT people in hiring.

We asked Code Switch followers on Twitter what they thought about the exchange.

Sturtz described her side of the incident to the Washington Blade. "She cut me off immediately and leaned over podium, sort of her put her big hand towards me and said something to the effect of 'You don't do that to me' or 'I don't do that,'" Sturtz said. "Then I made a comment that I'm interested in making sure that we have employment protections, and I'm not going to be quiet any longer."

And therein lies the major point of contention: When, if ever, is it right to heckle a public figure? (And the answer can't be when the heckler's demands align with your own.)

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode in the comments.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gene Demby is the co-host and correspondent for NPR's Code Switch team.
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