Was Desirée Rogers Too Powerful or Too Black?

The dust is still settling in Washington after the resignation of White House staffer and close Obama insider Desirée Rogers. As social secretary to the Obamas, the task at hand for Rogers was to to project the glamor of the First Couple. The New York Times credits Rogers with “personifying the fresh, new-generation approach that the Obamas promised to bring to Washington.”

Well, that approach did not last too long. After wannabe reality TV show stars Tareq and Michaele Salahi successfully crashed into the Obamas’ first state dinner, the Secret Service quickly stepped in to take responsibility for the security breach. But questions about Rogers’ role and responsibility remained.

The New York Times reports that although this incident was the breaking point, tensions between the glamorous Rogers and her White House colleagues were brewing long before. After her string of cover shots (Vogue, Vanity Fair and WSJ among others) and appearances at “splashy” events, the White House intentionally tried to lower Rogers’ profile, even canceling a photo shoot of Rogers in an Oscar De La Renta gown posing in the First Lady’s garden. Many in Obama’s inner-circle began to wonder if Rogers was doing her job too well, and perhaps overshadowing the Obamas.

When the Salahis were ordered to testify in front of Congress about how they managed to get into the White House, Rogers was banned by the White House from testifying. Despite the Secret Service stipulating its role in the security mishap, Rogers resigned from her position earlier this month.

Articles about her resignation seem to romanticize Washington and portray it as a city that loves to lure in outsiders and seduce them with the glamor that accompanies power only to watch them “become too big and ultimately crash and burn.” While this may be true to an extent about the political city, I have to ask how much of the fall of Desirée Rogers has to do with her being too powerful, or simply being black and powerful? How much of Rogers’ high-status image would have been bemoaned if she were white?

One just has to glance over Rogers’ bio to be impressed. This is no ordinary woman of any color. She graduated from Wellesley College and got her M.B.A. from Harvard; she was president of Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas before becoming a senior executive at Allstate Financial.

When the Obamas lived in Chicago, it was the high-status and glitzy Rogers who brought the now-First Couple into her powerful inner circle of Chicago’s movers and shakers. And when Obama ran for president, Rogers brought in $600,000 to his campaign.

Not many people know or give credit to the fact that Rogers was a one-woman powerhouse even before she arrived in D.C. With this woman’s educational and corporate background, no wonder the Obamas wanted her to be part of their White House team.

It is a shame that Rogers only lasted a year into the Obama presidency, and an even bigger shame that we lose out on having such a smart, powerful and public woman of color to look up to. Washington clearly may be ready for a black man to have power, but the same is not true for a powerful black woman.

Yet.

Above: The White House. Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylerush/ / CC BY 2.0

About

Anushay Hossain began her feminist career as an intern at the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) where she worked on microfinance for women and girls in her native country, Bangladesh. A University of Virginia graduate, Anushay joined the Feminist Majority Foundation's Nobel Peace Prize nominated Campaign for Afghan Women before completing her MA in Gender and Development at the University of Sussex. She spent a year at the United Nations Development Fund for Women's (UNIFEM UK) London office before returning to Washington, DC where she invests the majority of her work analyzing the impact of US foreign policy on the health and rights of women and girls around the world.