Too Powerful or Too Black? The Fall of White House Staffer Desirée Rogers

Former White House Social Secretary, Desirée Rogers. Image Credit: Flickr

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 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 was brewing long before. After her string of magazine covers, (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 posing in an Oscar De La Renta gown in the First Lady’s garden. Many in Obama’s inner-circle began to ponder if Rogers was doing her job too well, and possibly overshadowing the Obamas.

Rogers Sitting Front Row At New York Fashion Week With Vogue Editor, Anna Wintour. Image Credit: Flickr

When the Salahis were ordered to testify in front of Congress about exactly 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 Rogers’ resignation seem to romanticize Washington, portraying it as a city that loves to lure in outsiders, to seduce them with the glamor which accompanies power only to “watch people 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 too black and powerful? How much of Rogers’ high-status image would have been bemoaned about if she were white?

One just has to glance over Rogers’ bio to be beyond impressed. This is just no ordinary woman of color, and of any color to be precise. Rogers graduated from Wellesley College and got her M.B.A. from Harvard University. She was the President of Peoples Gas and North shore Gas before she became 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 inter 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 before she arrived in Washington. With this woman’s educational and corporate background, no wonder the Obamas wanted Rogers as a part of their White House team.

It is a shame that Rogers only lasted a year into the Obama Presidency, and it is 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.


*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post and Ms. Magazine Blog.

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