Saturday, June 21, 2008

"Michelle Obama as the 'angry black woman'"

Tracy Russo:
Loryn explores Michelle Obama as the “angry black woman”:

…it’s still worth taking a look at why some people are so quick to paint Obama as “angry,” whether in reference to her quote about being “proud of [her] country for the first time, the “whitey” hoax, or her Princeton thesis, and why the “angry black woman” archetype is so damaging and counterproductive.

One of the most hurtful things about this theme is that, in addition to painting black women as scary, it also implies that we have a certain sassy, angry “attitude,” and therefore need not be taken seriously. The image of the neck-rollin’, finger-snappin’ “Sheneneh” character we were introduced to by Martin Lawrence comes to mind (as though every black woman does this when she’s angry). Such a character isn’t someone you debate or argue–she’s someone you laugh at or ignore.

Along those same lines, the “angry black woman” designation implies that the issues we care about as black women–racism, sexism, classism, health care, and the achievement gap in our education system, among others–are not important enough to get angry about in the first place. The black women Thomas mentions, Waters and McKinney, have, in their own ways, fought for social justice and equality in their communities. But his stereotype undercuts their efforts: they’re not angry or passionate because of the fights they are fighting, Thomas is saying–they’re angry and passionate because, well, that’s simply what black women are.

It’s a convenient way to dodge the real issues in favor a ready-made, widely disseminated caricature. And that’s exactly what Michelle Obama’s race-baiting critics are hoping to do: avoid the real issues.

Now personally, I didn’t realize all black women were angry - or angrier than white woman. Truth be told, if they are angry, I’d say they have a right to be. Black women are faced with the double-edged sword of sexism and racism in America. I think this is one of the reasons why Michelle Obama is such a treat to those who exist comfortably within the status quo of a white patriarchal society.

Let’s face it - she’s smart - really smart - and ambitious. Undergrad at Princeton, Harvard for law school. All of which prepared her for work as part of a big corporate law firm before moving into a post as the University of Chicago Medical Center’s Vice President of Community Affairs.

But Michelle Obama didn’t just accomplish these career successes. Along the way she married a great guy, gave birth to two beautiful children, and managed to give back to the community she grew up in. If women are struggling to figure out a way to “have it all” - Michelle Obama seems to have figured out a way to make it happen. Her story is the American Dream. The real-life embodiment of making your big dreams come true.

She should be celebrated - instead she’s demonized. We’re told ambition doesn’t look flattering on women, and it’s so much less becoming on a black woman, right? Strong women ruffle feathers. Women who confidently break the mold - who so willingly leave behind that simpering-barefoot-and-pregnant housewife persona are still questioned, still somewhat unacceptable.

Of course it isn’t something that is talked about all that publicly - on the surface women’s equality is here and here to stay. We’ve got nothing to complain about. But ask any strong woman who’s managed to make it into a leadership role and she’ll tell you she’s still playing the game of battling the boys’ club mentality.

Michelle Obama is going to take the battle to the front page of the New York Times. As the country gets to know Barack Obama, they are going to get to know Michelle Obama too. This lady isn’t going to smile and nod her way through this campaign - and I think it’s way past time for that.

Recommended reading: Gina, the fantastic blogger behind the “What About Our Daughters” site recently started “Michelle Obama Watch” which tracks the media’s coverage of Michelle Obama.



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