Tag Archives: Michelle Obama

White Feminists And Michelle Obama [The Throwback]

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.
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“Leaning Out” Proves Feminism is in the Eye of the Beholder

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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.

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Open Thread: Michelle Obama Heckled By LGBT Activist

By Arturo R. García

First Lady Michelle Obama. Image via ABC News.

Without having video of this encounter between First Lady Michelle Obama and a heckler from GetEqual, an LGBT rights group, here’s how the pool report says it went down:

When Mrs. Obama was roughly 12 minutes into her 20-minute remarks at a home in Northwest Washington, a woman at the front of a crowd of about 200 people began shouting for President Obama to issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But where Mr. Obama, more accustomed to such interruptions, typically waits in place for the protester to stop and perhaps acknowledges the complaint, his wife chose direct confrontation.

She left the lectern and moved toward the heckler. “One of the things I don’t do well is this,” she said, to loud applause. She said the protester could “listen to me, or you can take the mike, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

The crowd yelled for Mrs. Obama to stay, with one woman nearby telling the protester, “You need to go!” Attendees escorted the protester out as she yelled further, at one point identifying herself as a “lesbian looking for federal equality before I die.”

The group’s co-director, Heather Cronk, confirmed to Buzzfeed Tuesday night that the group had planned for the protester, Ellen Sturtz, to be there, along with other members of the organization.

[Full disclosure: I have interviewed GetEqual’s other co-director, Felipe Sousa Rodríguez on two occasions to comment on immigration-related stories for my other job as an editor at The Raw Story.]

Sturtz specifically called for President Barack Obama to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into effect with an executive order. The bill has been taken up in both the House of Representatives and the Senate but has stalled.

However, Sturtz’s response to being directly addressed by the First Lady was the source of the heaviest debate on social media Tuesday night:

Sturtz was escorted out of the room. She said in an interview later she was stunned by Obama’s response.

“She came right down in my face,” Sturtz said. “I was taken aback.”

Sturtz said she told Obama she was happy to take the microphone to plead her case, which, Sturtz said, appeared to fluster the first lady.

“I said I want your husband to sign the executive order,” Sturtz said. “Her husband could sign this order tonight and protect 22 percent of the work force in this country.”

On the surface, part of that response seems incongruent: Sturtz went to the event specifically to call Obama out, yet was “taken aback” when Obama responded to her. But, as more facts start coming in, let’s get the ball rolling and get everybody’s impressions of the encounter.

Update: I did a follow-up piece for Raw Story today, featuring both GetEqual’s rationale for engaging the first lady at the event and MSNBC contributor and Penn University professor Anthea Butler talking about the reaction online.

The Racialicious Links Roundup 5.23.13

Make no mistake: This donation is historic. It appears to be the largest gift by a black man to any college or university, comparable to the gift Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, gave to Spelman College in 1988. Some 25 years later, their $20-million gift (about $39 million in inflation-adjusted dollars) is still the largest-ever private gift to a historically black college. Dre gave USC almost triple the amount Oprah Winfrey has given Morehouse College over the years. Sean “Diddy” Combs gave $500,000 to Howard University in 1999, which he attended before launching a successful career.

A hip-hop icon is now the new black higher-ed philanthropy king. We’ve never seen a donation to rival this from any black celebrity — musician, athlete or actor — and that fact must be celebrated.

But as the president of a black college, it pains me as well. I can’t help but wish that Dre’s wealth, generated as it was by his largely black hip-hop fans, was coming back to support that community.

USC is a great institution, no question. But it has a $3.5-billion endowment, the 21st largest in the nation and much more than every black college — combined. Less than 20% of USC’s student body qualifies for federal Pell Grants, given to students from low-income families, compared with two-thirds of those enrolled at black colleges. USC has also seen a steady decrease in black student enrollment, which is now below 5%.

A new report on black male athletes and racial inequities shows that only 2.2% of USC undergrads are black men, compared with 56% of its football and basketball teams, one of the largest disparities in the nation. And given USC’s $45,602 tuition next year, I’m confident Dre could have sponsored multiple full-ride scholarships to private black colleges for the cost of one at USC.

The comparison has been made before between Lena Dunham and Beyoncé as feminist icons. Mainstream white feminist organizations don’t question whether Lena Dunham, a self-professed feminist, is feminist enough. Though her show Girls has come under fire in more progressive wings of feminism, mainstream feminist organizations embrace her, happily framing her as a new face of feminism. Dunham openly swears, walks around naked, and simulates sex onscreen, but there is no larger mainstream questioning of her feminist credentials. But when Beyoncé, a fierce, independent woman of color flirts with the feminist monikerthe backlash begins. How interesting.

Dunham has appeared fully naked on her show. She has both appeared in and written some highly provocative and often controversial sex scenes. Her character has been shown snorting cocaine and having one-night stands, yet no one questions Dunham’s feminist credentials. And they shouldn’t — her choice to appear naked and in simulated sex scenes is not anti-feminist. It’s a choice that she made, an artistic choice meant to explore sexuality, sexual expression, and the limits of her character.

And yet, Beyoncé is often roundly criticized in feminist spaces because of her “slutty” outfits, herovertly-sexual dance moves, for her lyric choices, for using the moniker Mrs. Carter, and her occasional use of the word bitch. Who are we, feminists? Is this who we want to be? You sound like Phyllis Schlafly. She wears a unitard — she can’t be a feminist! She is gyrating and shaking her butt — how inappropriate! She said the word “bitch” — that’s a feminist no-no! Do you hear yourselves, white liberal feminists? Do you hear what you are doing to this strong, independent black woman?

That Olivia Pope is the new darling of network television is less surprising than you might think, if you really take the time to think about it and to consider it within the context of America’s strange relationship with its dark racial past. After 40 years without a leading black female in a network drama – 40 years which has seen the likes of cornrows at Wimbledon and the White House – it’s more than about time, it’s way overdue (interestingly, if you Google “black female accomplishments of the past 40 years,” Kerry Washington’s Wikipedia page is the sixth entry). But the hype aroundScandal feels different than the catharsis traditionally felt when glass ceilings are nudged by nappy or nappy-in-spirit heads of hair. This is at least in part due to the show’s success lying in not only one fictional black woman’s double-duty reign on the mountaintop and roll in the hay; Scandal’s real shocker is that it represents a trifecta of black female power, visibility, and influence in the entertainment industry. The show’s creator, Shonda Rhimes, who, according to Willa Paskin of The New York Times, is “one of the most powerful show runners in the business,” the real-life inspiration for its protagonist, crisis manager Judy Smith, and its leading lady, the hybrid star and character, brown bombshell Kerry Washington/Olivia Pope, who is brilliant, cunning, and stunningly beautiful.

Rhimes is a crafty one, to say the least. She learned the hard way “how to be a boss and a leader at the same time,” forced to transition from a self-sequestered screenwriter into the powerhouse Midas she is now, as her first network effort, Grey’s Anatomy, turned directly into prime-time gold. Paskin’s NYT piece paints a picture of a woman who earned and owns the right to write the counter-culture D.C. of Scandal,where “America is run by an African-American spin expert, a scheming first lady and a mercenary gay guy.” Furthermore, Shonda Rhimes’ facility with social networking has made her show the industry’s darling test-tube baby of multi-media engagement and viewership, prompting the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara to crown Scandal“the show that Twitter built.” Rhimes regularly sends Tweets of gratitude to 350,000 followers and fans, who include among their number former-D.C. mayor Marion Barry; while cast members Tweet from the set, and fans respond in kind. All of this has made the show a social media phenomenon, and the first to achieve the multi-screen orgy network execs have been trying to pull off since prime-time ratings started falling.

While I was a teenager during the grunge and Riot Grrrl era, for some reason I was (at the time) more drawn to hyper-masculine, testosterone-saturated grunge and metal bands and was not that interested in what was happening on the other side of the scene. As Hanna’s talk was intriguing, I took the opportunity to check out The Punk Singer, part of the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.

About 10 minutes into the documentary, I knew that I had made a colossal mistake.

Well, actually, as soon as I saw a snippet of 17 year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson waxing poetic about an era she was not even alive to witness, I knew that I would not be able to put my personal biases in regards to my age—and more importantly, my ethnicity as a black woman—aside when watching this documentary.

From watching The Punk Singer, I realized why I had never been that psyched on the Riot Grrrl scene. It wasn’t for me. It was for white women.

At the most basic level, there’s nothing any more wrong with aspiring to be a rapper than there is with aspiring to be a painter, or an actor, or a sculptor. Hip-hop has produced some of the most penetrating art of our time, and inspired much more. My path to this space began with me aspiring to be rapper. Hip-hop taught me to love literature. I am not alone. Perhaps you should not aspire to be a rapper because it generally does not provide a stable income. By that standard you should not aspire to be a writer, either.

At a higher level, there is the time-honored pattern of looking at the rather normal behaviors of black children and pathologizing them. My son wants to play for Bayern Munich. Failing that, he has assured me he will be Kendrick Lamar. When I was kid I wanted to be Tony Dorsett — or Rakim, whichever came first. Perhaps there is some corner of the world where white kids desire to be Timothy Geithner instead of Tom Brady. But I doubt it. What is specific to black kids is that their dreams often don’t extend past entertainment and athletics  That is a direct result of the kind of limited cultural exposure you find in impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are the direst result of American policy.

Enacting and enforcing policy is the job of the Obama White House. When asked about policy for African Americans, the president has said, “I’m not the president of black America. I’m the president of all America.” An examination of the Obama administration’s policy record toward black people clearly bears this out. An examination of the Obama administration’s rhetoric, as directed at black people, tells us something different.

Michelle O And The Curious Case Of Cultural Assimilation

By Guest Contributor Ajené “AJ” Farrar; originally published at Elixher

Five years and a tenuous honeymoon period later, the country is still wholly in love with our First Lady. Her reception by mainstream media outlets has been surprising not just in its warmth, but in its breadth: She has graced the covers of magazines ranging from Vogue to Good Housekeeping to Time. Her approval rating has soared higher than most First Ladies of the the past century—at one point, even exceeding the highest approval rating of Eleanor Roosevelt. Virtually unassailable, she is Maya Angelou in a sleeveless dress—and the surprising new face of all-American regality.

Yes, the country loves our First Lady at least as much as past First Ladies, and it has been a welcomed relief. A chocolate-skinned, relatable, stylish, Ivy League standout, Mrs. Obama represents to black women the President’s resounding rejection of the colorism, racism, and ageism commonly seen not only in elite white circles, but among our most powerful black men. Still, her lasting influence remains in question. Will her acclaim result in a tempering of the racist sentiment maligning black women of all walks of life, or will it merely validate America’s stubbornly misguided campaign of “color-blindness?”

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Inauguration Fashion: Highlights

by Fashion and Entertainment Editor Joseph Lamour

From E! Online.

Just a quick note (“quick” is a bold faced lie and I know it) to show you that we Racialicious denizens leave the roost sometimes and branch out!

Yesterday, we celebrated the swearing in of our first African American president, for the second time (woo!) We also celebrated the confirmation of four more years of Michelle Obama looking ferosh all the time in the public eye, so I was asked to participate in a Huffington Post Live hangout where a few people would talk about the highlights of the inauguration ceremony from various angles. The guests were:

  • Reverend Deborah L. Johnson, Founder of Inner Light Ministries, Santa Cruz, CA
  • Molly Darden, Managing Editor of Azizah Magazine, Atlanta, GA
  • Dr. Christopher House, Dir., African American Worship Service at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • Tim Byrnes, Professor of Political Science at Colgate University, Hamilton, NY
  • J.J. Colagrande, Professor at Miami-Dade Wolfson and HuffPost Blogger, Miami, FL
  • Joseph Lamour, Fashion & Entertainment Editor at Racialicious.com, Washington, DC
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C’est moi! The drawing behind me is by yours truly as well. Cross promotion!

Let me just tell you: I did not expect to be seated amongst tenured professors and ministers. I was taken aback (and feel honored to be even thought of for the same discussion as the above people). I was so taken aback that I forgot my opening line! I had dubbed yesterday African American Awesomeness Day, and it really was. I promise I’m not talking about myself, either. I’m being humble (for once). To have Martin Luther King’s birthday fall on the same day as the re-inauguration of an African American President with his African American First Lady at his side was truly, truly, awesome.
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When Will The Media Start Portraying Black Women Without Betraying Them?

Lakesia Johnson’s new book Iconic highlights how negative stereotypes have followed black women from Sojourner Truth to Gabby Douglas, and shows how the black community can be among the worst perpetrators of negativity.

By Guest Contributor Tracey Ross

Recently, Lakesia Johnson, assistant professor at Grinell College, released her new book Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman. Through her book, Johnson strives to demonstrate how black women throughout history have worked to counteract negative stereotypes placed on them–angry, emasculating, mammy, sex object–and reposition themselves to advance agendas for social change. She illustrates this by honing in on some of history’s most iconic figures–Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Michelle Obama, to name a few–and analyzes the imagery, interviews, film, literature, and music by and about these women. At times, Johnson seems to over-interpret some of the images she analyzes, offering deep meaning to what the eyes in a photograph might signal, but her work highlights the power that images of black women possess.

Throughout the book, a few important themes emerge. For instance, black women’s hair becomes a character of its own, from the “threatening” natural style of Angela Davis to the “peaceful” locks of Alice Walker to the “Afrocentric” braids and head wraps of Erykah Badu. Johnson believes these women’s intentionality with their looks helps direct their message towards their ultimate agendas. Another theme throughout is the idea that outside forces work to turn these “revolutionary” women into sexual objects, focusing on their beauty and appeal over their intellect in an attempt to diminish their power. Johnson covers lots of territory in only 128 pages, but the main contribution of her book is that it serves as a reminder that we need to do better by black women. Starting with the black community.

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Meanwhile, On TumblR: Miss Major, The Revolutionary Mom-In-Chief, And The Racialized Politics Of Teaching Chinese To Black And Latin@ Kids

By Andrea Plaid

I lucked out in following people (and people who follow people) who post about issues concerning trans*/gender-variant and genderqueer/intersex (TGI) people, especially TGI people of color–as well as TGI people themselves–in the Tumblrverse. One trans* heroine of color reblogged on the R’s Tumblr is Miss Major (pictured below),

Courtesy: womenwhokickass

who, according to womenwhokickass:

  • was at the Stonewall uprisings in ’69, and became politicized in the aftermath at Attica. She has been an activist and advocate in her community for over forty years, mentoring and empowering many of today’s transgender leaders to stand tall, step into their own power, and defend their human rights, from coast to coast.
  • testified at to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland about the abuses of transgender women of color in and out of the Prison Industrial Complex in the US.

Speaking of women of color kicking ass, Racialicious homie Tami Winfrey Harris went in on the “white feminist chattering class” in her Clutch magazine post on how they seriously missed the point on why FLOTUS Michelle Obama calling herself “Mom-In-Chief” is a revolutionary act:

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