Eleanor Roosevelt’s Title



As I was looking for someone to talk about as an important American figure in the world whom I did not think of or know firsthand, I ran into the picture of Eleanor Roosevelt with the caption “First Lady of the World”. It reminded me of our conversation on Thursday about The Sheltering Sky and how one has to be an imperial and privileged subject to be able to qualify oneself or others as a “citizen of the world”. President Truman coined the expression used to describe Eleanor Roosevelt because of her humanitarian achievements and her work in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not that I want to discredit any of the work completed and First Lady Roosevelt’s extensive dedication towards human rights of men and women across the world. She was the first presidential wife to be so vocal and outspoken about racial issues, and sometimes would even disagree with President Roosevelt’s policies. Yet, in the light of our talk on Thursday, it seems very much that the “First Lady of the World” is a title that can only be given to a person of privilege, just like the main character in Bowles’s novel can be considered as a citizen of the world, as a “traveler”. In fact, First Lady Roosevelt’s title is not self-attributed, and I think it itself speaks to the perception of white America towards leaders who challenge systematic institutions and work for minorities (women, war refugees, African and Asian Americans, …) as worldly and informed. Yet, such decision for awareness and solidarity remains a place of privilege in America, and being able to shed someone’s cultural, social and ethnic identity because of their opinions, knowledge and/or travels is particular to that place. Thus, as honorable as Eleanor Roosevelt’s use of her opportunity to be an activist and diplomat is, one should be conscious that transnational and global titles such as “traveler” and “citizen of the world” are loaded with advantages of influence, authority, and ability to disregard identity.


One thought on “Eleanor Roosevelt’s Title”

  1. I agree with what you’ve said here, and I think it’s also worth noting that in the eyes of the West this privilege (“citizen of the world” etc) is often linked to whiteness. Since white is often erroneously assumed as the default, any interest in other cultures and places earns them the name of “traveler” and others like that. When it happens in reverse, it is often seen as no thing even worth the mention.



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