“Gabourey, how are you so confident?” It’s not easy. It’s hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know I will be made fun of because of my weight. There’s always a big chance if I wear purple, I will be compared to Barney. If I wear white, a frozen turkey. And if I wear red, that pitcher of Kool-Aid that says, “Oh, yeah!” Twitter will blow up with nasty comments about how the recent earthquake was caused by me running to a hot dog cart or something. And “Diet or Die?” [She gives the finger to that] This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. This is what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me. Sometimes when I’m being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can see it in her eyes, “How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? How does she deal with that body? Oh my God, I’m going to catch fat!”
What I would say, is my mom moved my brother and I to my aunt’s house. Her name is Dorothy Pitman Hughes, she is a feminist, an activist, and a lifelong friend of Gloria Steinem. Every day, I had to get up and go to school where everyone made fun of me, and I had to go home to where everyone made fun of me. Every day was hard to get going, no matter which direction I went. And on my way out of the house, I found strength. In the morning on the way out to the world, I passed by a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together. Side by side they stood, one with long beautiful hair and one with the most beautiful, round, Afro hair I had ever seen, both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house… I would give that photo a fist right back. And I’d march off into battle. [She starts crying] I didn’t know that I was being inspired then. On my way home, I’d walk back up those stairs, I’d give that photo the fist again, and continue my march back in for more battle. [She pulls a tissue from her cleavage and dabs her eyes] That’s what boobs are for! I didn’t know I was being inspired then, but I was. If they could feel like that, maybe I could! I just wanted to look that cool. But it made me feel that strong.
— Full transcript available at Vulture
By Special Correspondent Nadra Kareem
Editor’s Note: In this feature, we’re bringing back some of our favorite stories from Racialicious history. This week, in honor of the First Lady’s 50th Birthday, a 2008 piece defending her as she entered the national spotlight
Should white feminists be taken to task if they don’t defend Michelle Obama from the misogynistic attacks sure to continue coming her way as the presidential campaign unfolds? Not necessarily, say Corinne Douglas and Jacquelyn Gray, who wrote an editorial called “The Cost of Silence” at the Root.com.
In the article, Douglas and Gray argue that black women remained silent when Hillary Clinton suffered a litany of misogynistic attacks. Therefore, white women can’t be held accountable if they refuse to defend Michelle Obama from the evils of sexism. Douglas and Gray write:
The misogynistic savaging of Hillary Clinton was one of the most inexcusable elements of the primary campaign, and the silence from black women in the face of those attacks, because they supported Obama, was, at least, a tactical mistake. It is entirely unacceptable to go along with unfair attacks against women simply because you disagree with the particular woman under attack.
But here the authors make a number of assumptions. For one, not all black women supported Sen. Obama. High profile black women such as California Congresswoman Maxine Waters and author Maya Angelou supported Hillary Clinton. There were also black women, such as writer Rebecca Walker, who backed Sen. Obama while exposing the sexism targeted at Hillary Clinton. Walker, the goddaughter of feminist icon Gloria Steinem, even pointed out the ways in which Obama himself exhibited sexist behavior. Political commentator Donna Brazile is another example, as she was adamant about being a representative for both women and blacks during the primaries and did not publicly back either Clinton or Obama during that time. As for those black women who were not vocal about the sexism Sen. Clinton experienced, the assumption can’t be made that they did not speak out simply because she was Obama’s opponent.
Earlier this summer, my beautiful then five-year-old Nepali nieces sat with me in our garden enjoying the warm and easy sun. What started as a conversation about what happens to melanin when it finds home in all that glorious vitamin d, looking at our skin browner than it’s winter shade, turned into a difficult conversation about race, gender and diaspora.
One of them began to talk about wanting white skin and blonde hair, and what she would do if she had it. Whilst her twin sister disagreed, responding fervently that she actually liked her brown skin and her black hair, I needed to know what exactly had triggered the other’s denigrated thinking. Her answers, however, were unsurprising – a consequence of not only the (gendered) shadeism (and anti-blackness) that holds dominance in Asian communities but her experiences as a brown girl in a white supremacist society.
Upon my questioning, she responded with a resolute and yet strangely logical answer:
but everybody on TV is white and all the nice people are blonde. Nobody wants to be brown.
There was nowhere she could really see herself.
I can’t believe that, as someone who a year ago could scarcely quote a Beyonce song, save “Bootylicious,” I am spending so much time defending the artist these days. But the surprise release of her “visual album,” Beyonce, has sparked a fresh round of broken criticism of the star, freighted with gender and race bias. Understand, it is not that Beyonce, for all her power-belting, catchy hook-writing and effortless dancing, is above reproach. Once we finish getting down to “Drunk in Love,” we need to analyze the hell out of Mr. Knowles-Carter’s wack ass, Ike Turner-worshipping, violence-fetishizing contribution to the “love” track:
Catch a charge, I might, beat the box up like Mike…
I’m like Ike Turner
Baby know I don’t play, now eat the cake Annie Mae
Said, eat the cake, Annie Mae
This, right here, is all kinds of problematic and the sort of contradiction a public feminist needs to be called to task for. But, as yet, I haven’t seen many people questioning why Bey let Jay spit some nasty, misogynist shit on an album that includes the feminist brilliance of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Instead, folks are still carping about whether one can flaunt dat ass, be conventionally attractive, launch a world tour using a married moniker or be rich and successful and still be feminist.
Just so we can move the analysis along: The answer to that question is “Yes,” as I outlined in an article in Bitch magazine earlier this year:
A popular star willing to talk about gender inequity, as Beyoncé has, is depressingly rare. But Freeman insists flashes of underboob and feminist critique don’t mix. Petersen concurs, calling the thigh-baring, lace-meets-leather outfit Beyoncé wore during her Super Bowl XLVII halftime show an “outfit that basically taught my lesson on the way that the male gaze objectifies and fetishizes the otherwise powerful female body.” A commenter on Jezebel summed up the charge: “That’s pretty much the Beyoncé contradiction right there. Lip service for female fans, fan service for the guys.”
These appraisals are perplexing amid a wave of feminist ideology rooted in the idea that women own their bodies. It is the feminism of SlutWalk, the anti-rape movement that proclaims a skimpy skirt does not equal a desire for male attention or sexual availability. Why, then, are cultural critics like Freeman and Petersen convinced that when Beyoncé pops a leather-clad pelvis on stage, it is solely for the benefit of men? Why do others think her acknowledgment of how patriarchy influences our understanding of what’s sexy is mere “lip service”?
Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, says, “The idea that Beyoncé being sexy is only her performing for male viewers assumes that embracing sexuality isn’t also for women.” Jackson adds that the criticism also ignores “the limited choices available to women in the entertainment industry and the limited ways Beyoncé is allowed to express her sexuality, because of her gender and her race.”
Her confounding mainstream persona, Jackson points out, is one key to the entertainer’s success as a black artist. “You don’t see black versions of Lady Gaga crossing over to the extent that Beyoncé has or reaching her levels of success. Black artists rarely have the same privilege of not conforming to dominant image expectations.”
Solange, Beyoncé’s sister, who has gone for a natural-haired, boho, less sexified approach to her music, remains a niche artist, as do Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, and Shingai Shoniwa of the Noisettes, like so many black female artists before them. Grace Jones, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman, Meshell Ndegeocello—talented all, but quirky black girls, especially androgynous ones, don’t sell pop music, perform at the Super Bowl, or get starring roles in Hollywood films.
Black women (and girls) have also historically battled the stereotype of innate and uncontrolled lasciviousness, which may explain why Beyoncé’s sexuality is viewed differently from that of white artists like Madonna, who is lauded for performing in very similar ways. Read more…
By Guest Contributor Amina Jabbar, cross-posted from Muslimah Media Watch
Growing up as a queer-identified South Asian Muslimah and a survivor of domestic violence, I’ve occasionally felt that merely existing was, in and of itself, an act of rebellion. But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve not only survived, but thrived, now living the life of a resident physician.
I can’t take all the credit for where I am because, simply put, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Through my life, I’ve consistently found media depictions of Muslim women and others engaging in daily acts of resistance to subvert and redefine the predominant discourses about Muslim women. These people and stories form a series of lessons to which I give credit for the awesome trajectory of my life. Here, then, are my seven lessons for a Muslimah’s guide to rocking the world.
Lesson #1: Our commitment to social justice reflects our commitment to faith.
It’s easy, I think, to get lost in the textual analyses of faith alone. The Qu’ran and hadiths are, after all, rich, deep, and complicated. But in an incredible interview on Vimeo, Amina Wadud makes a distinction between being a servant of God and an agent of God. She talks about how her focus on the Qu’ranic meanings alone wasn’t enough; that being an agent implies an obligation to actively live in ways that are consistent with principles of social justice. Wherever and whenever there is injustice, we’re obligated to challenge the status quo.
Lesson #2: Some principles are worth being unwaveringly unapologetic about.
Our social and political positions may not always be popular. In general, I’m all for compromise but, occasionally, there are principles that are and should be “non-negotiable.” With the non-negotiables of life, even when the going gets tough, there should be no sidelining, shifting, or redrafting of the message. Easy to say, difficult to do. But Fanta Ongoiba, executive director of Africans in Partnership Against AIDS in Toronto, makes it look slick. Sexual health and HIV remain hushed, tabooed topics within many Muslim communities. Ongoiba’s work , recently honored by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, provides real space and fills a real need, no matter the response from religious leaders. As a Toronto Star article put it, “at an international conference, one sheik called her a ‘troublemaker,’ a label she embraced” and to which she also responded “ I’d prefer to be a troublemaker to wake you up.”
Politico’s magazine has a cover piece on Michelle Obama called “>”Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama Became a Feminist Nightmare.” Or, it could have been titled “random feminists are disappointed.” As per usual, the piece is long on other people’s opinions about how Michelle Obama is single handedly failing the cause and short on actual analysis and historical context.
The piece opens by sharing a story about a new political initiative that Michelle Obama is involved with, with writer Michelle Cottle implying that Obama’s focus on people and not policy is not enough:
Speaking last week at Bell Multicultural High School, a couple of miles north of the White House, the first lady touted the importance of a college degree, citing her own journey from a one-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s South Side to Princeton as evidence of how far hard work and good schooling can take you. “I’m here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story,” she told the predominantly low-income, heavily minority student body.
Cottle goes on to explain that Obama’s visit to Bell Multicultural is part of a push for a campaign to encourage college completion. Cottle then complains that Obamas efforts with youth outreach are distressingly focused on actually talking to the youth, instead of digging deep and hitting hard at policy from the White House Garden.
This example is an interesting one to criticize, to say the least. Nothing is mentioned about DC’s unique space in public education debates, now forgotten after the heyday of high profile reformers. Not much is said about why there may be a focus on minority graduation rates from college, or why Bell Multicultural might be the perfect kind of place to launch an initiative focusing on low income students and college enrollment. No, no, Cottle would like us to understand that Michelle Obama is failing feminism because she insists on being motherly.
In Cottle’s own words:
Turns out, she was serious about that whole “mom-in-chief” business—it wasn’t merely a political strategy but also a personal choice.
Oh, the horror. Continue reading
By Guest Contributor Chaya Babu
When two famous black feminists take the stage to discuss social justice and feminism, or more specifically, how race and class impact African American women’s experiences in the US, why is it that I–an Indian American woman from pretty, affluent Briarcliff Manor, New York–feel at home? How is that this where I feel whole, recognized, and validated?
I don’t actually need the answers to these questions as some sort of navel-gazing exercise. But others seem to. When it comes to our position in social movements, identity is a big deal; it behooves us to acknowledge and take accountability for our inherent role, by default of who we are, in intersectional systems of oppression. So perhaps confusion is founded. As an upper-middle-class, straight, cissexual, conventionally feminine woman, whose ethnic minority status in America is mitigated by being part of the ‘model minority,’ it’s true that I have much going for me. I could ride the tide of my privilege. Easy.
But I started thinking about race at an early age. When we watched a video about MLK and the civil rights movement in second grade, I saw a binary and placed myself on the pigmented side of it. At 11-years-old, I adopted hip and hop and its surrounding culture as my self-expression in a white world. Would things have been different if my parents played Bollywood films in the house? I can’t be sure. Whatever it was, I identified clearly with non-whiteness. This made me an outcast in a way. I grew up around mostly white people, and the other Indians I knew seemed to see themselves on that side of the color line, or at the very least, they were more seduced by the power that came with our proximity to whiteness, as Melissa Harris-Perry put it. I am guilty of this too, but I still felt acutely that my brown skin was creating a vast gulf between my reality and that of my white friends. If I had to guess, this is where I got my sense of injustice in the world, despite my understanding that I was exceedingly blessed and shrouded in comfort, wealth, and opportunity.
I was more aware of my status as a person of color than as a woman. (It took me much longer to become aware of the endless benefits of my class position, because, well, that’s how it works). I became interested in anti-racism far before I felt drawn to anti-sexist, anti-patriarchal movements or cared about class dynamics. (Of course, I now get that it’s all connected.) But I think my internalization of my color is very telling for where I stand now when it comes to my personal feminist politics. Regardless of the particulars of the layering, all of this means I stand outside of my own ethnic community in the US–a community that, in my experience, often seems largely (not universally) brainwashed by the promise of ascending in a racist system.
Based on this, who could I have looked to as speaking to me–a little brown girl whose large suburban home had a Ganesha in a kitchen cupboard–about dissent and disruption of the status quo? What, you don’t believe in a white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy, you say? Who put these thoughts in your head?
There was no place for me there. My place was to be a good Indian girl.
A large part of last week’s talk between Melissa Harris-Perry and bell hooks at The New School (see above) was about black women’s voices: the avenues though which they convey their messages, the shift in how they are represented, why some mainstream spaces may be more open to promoting them, even if minimally (Harris-Perry on MSNBC). I had no access to these voices when I was younger. I had some Alice Walker and Toni Morrison in high school, and then college and beyond gave me the nonfiction radical texts of bell hooks and Harris-Perry, Audre Lorde, Dorothy Roberts, and more. However, I couldn’t see that I was allowed to turn their thoughts into action in my own life, no matter how deeply they touched my heart.