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Archive for the ‘Michelle Obama’ Category

A Garden at the White House

I’ve not been posting much lately – perhaps the 3 of you who read this have noticed. Just too much stuff going on and not enough mental/emotional energy to dwell on it deeply and make commentary about it.

However.

Every now and then a glimmer of hope. This makes me happy:

WASHINGTON — On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II. There will be no beets (the president doesn’t like them) but arugula will make the cut.

On a related note, there are worms in my basement. This makes me happy too.

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So here is a frame that is increasingly annoying and troubling. The idea that presence of the Obama family in the White House presents a new face to America about what black families are.

Black first family changes everything

I agree, wholeheartedly, that the images presented over generations of what black people and black families are have been severely limited and problematic. The article slants the piece in such a way, though, that focuses on pathologies in the black community as the only reality. It sets the Obama family up as the ones who will not only correct that notion, but also the ones that will straighten out black America. And yeah, I get that there is some of that going on and that it is good. I don’t want all the “role models” out there to be involved in sports or music. However, it has never been the case that that is where all the role models are, where all the successful black people are. The images that are chosen to portray us are drawn either from that stream – sports or music, or from the stream that shows us the poverty stricken criminals, you know, the ones that Bill Bennett wants to abort.

As one of the women quoted in the article says, “We don’t get to see black love.” She is right – we don’t get to see it. That does not mean it isn’t there, hasn’t been there, and won’t be there in the future. We don’t get to see it in the media because it is not shown. What passes for black love is too often fetishized and pathologized. We are not used to seeing black love, not because it does not exist, but because it does not fit into the narrow frame of who black people are, according to those who shape the images we see. And yes, I am well aware that sometimes those images are shaped by us – black people.

The black first family does not change everything, as the CNN headline asserts. Yes, I am glad – so glad to see them there. But what will change everything is not just the image of this successful, loving black family in the white house. What will begin to change some things, and then more things, and maybe work towards changing everything is making sure more people have the opportunity to achieve the things this family has achieved is to assure the basics of life that provide stability to every citizen. Things like health care, decent educational institutions that are adequately funded and serve all children well, and living wages. Supporting families so that they are able to get what they need to survive physically will go a long way in maintaining good psychological, emotional and spiritual health. And no, it’s not just about throwing money at problems. It is about building a national – no, a global consciousness that understands that within a society, individuals and individual family units are connected to one another and it is within the best interests of us all to tend to that interconnectedness. If a society decides to throw away a segment of their population (whether designated by race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, whatever) by first not acknowledging their humanity and from that denying them the rights and benefits of the society, then yes, things will go horribly wrong. Rugged individualism does not a healthy society make.

It is not until the very tail end of the article that we are given a glimpse of another reality:

Barbara McKinzie, international president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, says she grew up in a small town in Oklahoma surrounded by black couples and an extended family of teachers and neighbors, who were knit together like the new first family.

She didn’t need to look at the Inauguration Day festivities to see a vibrant black family.

“It’s not new, but it appears new,” she says. “The president and his wife and children are not a novelty in the African-American community.

“It’s the only family I’ve known in my life.”

h/t Rachel’s Tavern

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Interesting to note that while O’Reilly yammers on and on regarding Michelle Obama, the angry black woman, there is video playing with Obama flashing smiles, connecting with her audience, listening carefully and looking thoughtful, and yes, looking serious. The editors might have found more… angry looking footage if they were trying to make a point, no?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Which is not to say that Michelle Obama, or any black woman, or any woman, or any person does not have the right to be angry. Listen in the interview as O’Reilly badgers Vogue editor Rebecca Johnson and columnist Michelle Oddis to give him some angry Michelle:

O’REILLY: How did you find her in person? Was she engaging?

JOHNSON: I found her lovely, actually, very bright, very thoughtful and, you know, an impressive person, intelligent. She was great. I was impressed.

O’REILLY: Now, I have a lot of people who call me on the radio and say she looks angry. And I have to say there’s some validity to that. She looks like an angry woman. Did you ask her about that?

JOHNSON: Don’t they say that about you, too?

O’REILLY: Yeah, but I’m not running for — I’m not going to be the first lady.

JOHNSON: But she’s —

O’REILLY: I hope not, anyway. The perception is that she’s angry in some quarters. Valid?

JOHNSON: Well — they say she looks angry because of maybe of the cast of her eyebrows or something like that. But, no, I don’t find her to be angry. I think what happens is that we expect women to be cheerful and happy all the time in that kind of television personality kind of way. And she’s not like that. She’s a thoughtful person. She’s not going to —

O’REILLY: Warm and fuzzy?

JOHNSON: No.

O’REILLY: Not warm and fuzzy?

JOHNSON: No.

O’REILLY: Even to you, who she’s trying to win over as an author of the piece?

JOHNSON: You know, she was not trying to win me over in any way.

(more here)

Note: People call O’Reilly on the phone and say Michelle Obama “looks” angry; this notion is refuted by someone who actually sat down and spent time with her.

Note: Michelle Obama is not “warm and fuzzy.”

Note: Michelle Obama does not put on a fake persona in order to “win people over.”

Note: None of these things equals “angry.”

However. Angry – all right with me. I want people to be angry about inequality, inaccessible health care and housing, an economy that is falling in the toilet as we speak….yeah, a little anger would be nice right about now.

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I am so tired I can hardly see straight – 3 classes today and one is a night class. But I just read about this over at Cara’s (via Michelle Obama Watch) and, yeah, well the gloves are coming off now, aren’t they? I mean, dang, not even trying to act like they’re not trying to keep those negroes (us negroes) in their/our place.

Hang on… it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

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Meet the scary black people who may move into the White House next January:

Did I mention they were black? And, so, so scary! Look – she has a machine gun! She looks very angry. Those black women are always angry about something. And he’s a Muslim! Told you! A scary, militant, terrorist Muslim – coming to your White House. Look at them – what is that they are doing with their hands? The terrorist fist bump! Ahhh – run for your lives!

See – this is supposed to be satire, because it’s the New Yorker, y’all. That’s the liberal press. But how many people will see the image on this cover and have their fears about the Obamas even more deeply ingrained?

By the way – the story? “The Politics of Fear.”

ht – Diary of an Anxious Black Woman, What About Our Daughters.

ETA – Renee at Womanist Musings posted on this as well today. I couldn’t agree more with this statement:

Depicting racial imagery to “fight” racism is not acceptable. This is not the work of an ally.

UPDATE: More (including contact info) here and here (and lots of other places).

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Michelle Obama Watch

It’s a shame we need it, but it’s a slick site. Check it out.

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Nothing to see here. Move along.
Kthxbai.

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That is one week in my life on the intersection. Actually, it is only 3 days.

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Everybody’s talking about it…. at least women of color. I’ve read the posts, yet thus far have passed up actually watching the Fox News video in which Michelle Obama is referred to as Obama’s “baby mama.” The women linked to above have done a stellar job in noting the offensiveness in this yet one more reminder that black women in this country have a place….and it is not in the halls of power. This is not the first time nor will it be the last that Mrs. Obama (who just a couple of weeks ago was an elitist, right? oh, and an unpatriotic one at that) will have her name and image dragged tarnished.

Not the first time for her, not the first time for black women in this country by a long shot. Anxious Black Woman discusses the parallel between contemporary fascination with/revulsion of the female black body and the Hottentot Venus:

“The original Hottentot Venus image was created at a time when England was colonizing Africa, when the transatlantic slave trade was abolished, and when there was a crucial need to crush the revolutionary spirit among slaves in the Americas (in the wake of the Haitian slave revolt). It was absolutely essential to create an image that suggested that Africans – by the very nature of their bodily existence – were sexual savages with debased morals and animalistic urges, who were therefore deserving of slavery and colonization. African women, in particular, were viewed as deserving to be raped and to be bred to support the slave labor economy.”

Read the whole piece.

It is not surprising that part of the continuing signification of black women’s images are connected to motherhood and sexuality. Our bodies are read almost exclusively through these lenses, yet they are not Hallmark card images of misty-eyed motherhood.

In 2007 New York Times article (membership signup required) reported on a recent, alarming rise in infant mortality in the south. The front-page piece focused on poor black mothers in Mississippi and was accompanied by several photos. The photos and examples within the body of the text boiled down to several ‘facts:’ very young black women are pumping out dozens of babies who fail to thrive; these women are often obese to the point of being grotesque; they don’t have morals, and they are not smart enough or caring enough to take care of their many children because these children frequently die. Infant mortality in a particular segment of the community is on the rise. Almost as an incidental aside, mention is made of limited access to prenatal care in the state, with one doctor noting, “… programs take money, and Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation.” Yet the bulk of the article’s text places the blame on the behaviors of the mothers themselves, such as the remarks of another doctor who is an obstetrician at a private clinic:

Another major problem, Dr. Marley said, is that some women arrive in labor having had little or no prenatal care. “I don’t think there’s a lack of providers or facilities,” he said. “Some women just don’t have the get up and go.”

Fifteen years earlier, almost to the day, another newspaper riffed on poor black women. This time an op-ed piece by Ellen Goodman expressed a similar sentiment as the above referenced article regarding “some women”. On April 16, 1992 the Boston Globe published Goodman’s piece, entitled “Welfare Mothers with an Attitude.” The column argued the need to teach middle class values to welfare mothers, and was accompanied by a graphic drawing illustrating several black figures grabbing for cash; an Afro-coiffed woman placed in the center of the graphic held a baby who was also depicted as reaching for cash. The dollars in question, as Goodman elaborated in the column, were welfare benefits. Goodman chastises the women for their supposed sense of entitlement to perpetual and ever increasing welfare benefits. The column and accompanying graphic worked together to fortify the myth that the face of a welfare recipient is an immoral black women who in turn teaches her children to be immoral; and that “we” need to teach “them” some values.

The message in Mississippi and Massachusetts, points in between and beyond: black women’s bodies need to be controlled, lest they bankrupt the state and spread their contagion to the rest of the nation. The imperative to control, to subjugate the bodies of black women, of course is not new. It is at least as old as the arrival of enslaved Africans to the Americas and the perpetuation of that system; with the bodies of girls and women in particular subjected not only to enforced labor, but also to the forced sexual demands of their captors/owners and subsequently the role of breeders of the next generation of bodies not owned by themselves. The fact of these bodies being so horrifically mistreated hinged upon the justification of them being something other than human.
Michelle Obama, of course, is not a welfare mother.

Yet she is a black woman and therefore, need not be treated with respect.

Apparently.

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