Intersectionality Extends to Fat Acceptance Too!

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

It appears that all the people of color who don’t feel quite a part of the fat acceptance movement have a new manifesto.

Tara, blogging on Fatshionista, penned A Different Kind of Fat Rant: People of Color and the Fat Acceptance Movement.

The post opens:

There are reasons why people of color aren’t flocking to the fat acceptance movement, and they’re probably not the reasons you’re thinking of.

I swear, if I read or hear one more comment about POC not participating in the fat acceptance movement due to “access,” I am going to scream. If we’re talking about internet communities, one only needs to do a quick Google search to find that there are vibrant pockets of the blogosphere where people of color are contributing their thoughts and stories and building online communities that work for them in droves. If we’re talking about in-person fat activism, people of color from all sorts of backgrounds have always found time and space to contribute to the anti-oppression movements that matter most to them. People of color know resistance.

So I don’t wanna hear it. We’re here all right; we’re just not with you.

I see the fat acceptance movement making many of the same mistakes that second wave feminism did, and it’s both sad and maddening. “We built this movement; why don’t they come?” That is the prevailing attitude I read over and over again. But rarely, if ever, do I see white fat acceptance bloggers talking critically about why the movement may not be relevant or structured in a way that attracts fat people of color and their allies.

Let’s break it down for a minute.

Fat acceptance bloggers are guilty of the same sins of white feminism in that there is often a wholesale grouping of all fat people under the same oppression umbrella, with little or cursory examination of how things like race, class, sexuality, gender and gender presentation, ability, and age play into the fat equation. At minimum, folks in the fat acceptance movement need to take serious stock of their own position in the world, and how their privilege may be blockading their understanding of how other peoples’ experiences, identities, and embodiments change the way they experience their fat and how their fat is experienced by the world at large.

I also need to say that if I hear the “fat is the last acceptable oppression” meme one more time, I am going to scream (louder). Fat hatred is often blatant, shameless, vitriolic, and completely public. But guess what? So is racism! (And classism, heterosexism, ableism, and sexism.) Racism is institutionalized into our laws, our classrooms, our work places, and our daily interactions. Just because some white folks think it’s unacceptable to say the n-word, doesn’t mean that racism is gone or that it’s not “acceptable.” When people in the fat acceptance movement say that fat is the last acceptable oppression, it alienates and invalidates the struggles of people of color, who know first-hand that racism not only exists, but that it is also very much “acceptable” in polite society.

Tara then goes on to detail her experiences being a size 20 Asian woman, managing to debunk the “men of color like their women thick” myth and reinforce the point that “people of color” is not a stand in term for black. She also points out how discussions of appropriation in fat fashion are silenced:

As people who are forced to be creative with our clothing choices, I noticed that some women were talking about wearing a salwar kameez as summerwear and asking about where they could find plus sized qipao/cheongsam. But when I suggested that we look at how these things might be appropriation and how we could be creative in our fashion choices without resorting to cultural theft, the overwhelming response of the 400+ comments that followed was furious. While some members found merit in my questions, many of the responses were along the lines of “It’s just clothes! No big deal! Stop being so PC!” So, I am saying now that if you want us in your community, it IS a big fucking deal, and it needs to be addressed.

Tara then quickly explains the issue with fighting for inclusive beauty standards without understanding how race plays into what is seen as “acceptable” and brings in a discussion about food politics before closing with:

And that’s really the tip of the freaking iceberg, but I hope the message is clear. For the most part, your fat acceptance movement does not speak to us, and we’re not coming until y’all work out some shit.

Drop the mic, Tara. Do the victory walk off the stage to rousing applause. You earned it.

I must say, reading the whole piece brought a smile to my face.

Tara’s post should be required reading for any movement trying to understand intersectionality issues or trying to recruit more people of color to their front lines. There are things we need you to understand.

But of course, it only takes five comments before someone starts talking reckless:

No.5 Untitled
“Racism is institutionalized into our laws, our classrooms, our work places, and our daily interactions. Just because some white folks think it’s unacceptable to say the n-word, doesn’t mean that racism is gone or that it’s not “acceptable.” When people in the fat acceptance movement say that fat is the last acceptable oppression, it alienates and invalidates the struggles of people of color, who know first-hand that racism not only exists, but that it is also very much “acceptable” in polite society.”

I actually completely disagree with this. Racism is NOT acceptable in polite society, and you know it. I’m not saying it isn’t still around, but how can you say it’s institutionalized in our laws, when specific laws have been enacted countless times that outlaw discrimination? As a white person (in the South, no less) who makes every effort to confront prejudice whenever I do see it, I just don’t see how your assertion is true. Every instance of racism I’ve ever seen has been loudly condemned from all quarters, over and over again. Workplaces and daily interactions around here are pretty much racism-free. There are no articles in the paper about the “black epidemic;” there are no websites about “how to look less ethnic;” etc. Fat prejudice is most definitely more mainstreamed, less socially acceptable, and less addressed by anti-discrimination laws than racism.

Do you really think that women of color are still excluded from what’s considered to be beautiful? All the various cultural icons who aren’t white just… don’t register with you, or are somehow presented as less than? Do you really think Halle Berry is presented as “pretty for a black girl?” I sure don’t.

I’m not mad. Just want some clarity there. Like I said, I’m white so I’m sure I don’t see it the same way you do, but come on now. It’s certainly not just all over the place like it was in the 1950′s, when my mom got in trouble for drinking from a “colored” water fountain. Is it just because I’m young? I live in a city? I’m naive somehow? You’re sounding like there’s been no progress whatsoever wrt racism in this country, and I just disagree with that.

– Fay

Did y’all catch that?

Every instance of racism I’ve ever seen has been loudly condemned from all quarters, over and over again. Workplaces and daily interactions around here are pretty much racism-free. There are no articles in the paper about the “black epidemic;” there are no websites about “how to look less ethnic;” etc.

Where the hell does she live? Can I move there?

Tara provides a response in the comments; more discussion ensues.

But, before we all roll our eyes and throw up our hands because we are sick of the same old song and dance, check out this response post on Shapely Prose.

Titled “Giving a Shit,” co-blogger Fillyjonk offers up some much needed perspective:

[A]s people who are interested in social justice, we have a responsibility to give a shit about causes other than our own major concerns. Any oppression diminishes us. I am lucky enough to have a skin color that people can ignore, a relationship that I can get officially recognized, and enough financial stability that I don’t have to worry about where the rent is coming from. That means that racism, homophobia, and classism don’t affect me as much as fatphobia and misogyny; it means I could ignore them if I wanted to. But I invite them into my consciousness, not because I’m a glutton for emotional stress, but because I want to live in a just society. And I believe a just society is one in which the concerns and the marginalization of others matter to us.

[...]

Nobody is asking us to give up being fat activists and be anti-racism activists instead. But these things are not mutually exclusive; even if we don’t have the resources to do active work for both (or some other additional activist issue), we can give a shit about both simultaneously. If you do have the resources, by god, keep it up, but I know I just don’t have the energy to try to address all inequities and injustices. It’s hard enough to keep talking about large-scale attempts to disenfranchise and vilify fatties. But even if this isn’t a place where every oppression is equally addressed (which I don’t think anyone expects or even really needs), it’s really crucial that it be a place where every oppression is considered and important. That means that we do not minimize or dismiss people’s concerns. Right now, it means we listen to Tara when she talks about the things that hurt or alienate her; that we believe that these things are alienating; that we take this into account in the future; and that we understand that this awareness is not an unfair onus, but part of the greater work of social activism.

By jove, I think she’s got it!

There may be hope for these movements yet.