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Between “Mammy” and “Miss Ann”: The “problem” with Michelle

by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said.

Privilege hates to lose it’s place. Privilege believes that it deserves to be exulted above others. Indeed, it resents when the “other” is elevated to equal status, particularly when the “other” refuses to conform to the rules that privilege has put in place. So, the criticism of Michelle Obama’s physicality and sartorial choices comes as no surprise.

Most mainstream media are on board the FLOTUS love train. They call the First Lady beautiful. They love her unique style. They cherish those awesome, toned arms. They love her modern marriage. They celebrate her role as a mother. All of this talk about appearance and being a wife and mother–stereotypical feminine ideals–is driving some white feminists to distraction. They think this focus diminishes Michelle Obama’s considerable intellect and professional achievements. Most black women I know see things differently. The so-called feminine ideal is a tyranny to all women, but it is white women who stand as its embodiment. In the public consciousness, black women are almost never the most beautiful ones or the good wives or mothers. White women see Michelle Obama getting pushed into a feminized role and lament that this always happens to women. Many black woman recognize that it rarely happens to us and we are happy that people are finally recognizing our femininity.

The criticism that Michelle Obama has received, among the accolades, is instructive about the way black women are often viewed by the American public. Yesterday’s New York Times “Opinionator” column rounds up Web analysis of reactions to Michelle Obama’s style and appearance, particularly on the first couple’s recent European trip.

Reading about Juan Williams’ “Stokely Carmichael in a dress” comment, hearing the constant pondering of the first lady’s large buttocks and strong arms, and witnessing ongoing attempts to portray her as domineering, a narrative emerges that is not unfamiliar: Black woman are big, aggressive–not feminine, but masculine. Perhaps the only stereotype missing is the hypersexual tag that we often get saddled with–hypersexuality that is the opposite of the virginal feminine ideal.

Some folks clearly resent the presence of a black woman in an iconic position of American womanhood–one that is not meant for us. Continue reading