Carved Up: Black Women and Bodily Integrity

Hi, I’m Sylvia. I’m new to the CFLF crowd, and my regular blogging spot is at Problem Chylde. I’m a black twentysomething going through the sweet hell that is law school. I’m rounding out the first semester of my third year after putting down the Publish button for a few months. I tend to blog when I am amused, pissed, or some unholy combination of both. I’m also a cute bubbly ray of sunshine and light. Like it? No? Too bad. Shut up and listen.

I have to spell this out for my fellow commentators in the United States. I hate speaking to people as if they are children; but I guess after the Don Imus situation the lesson did not take.

Do not, do not, do NOT reduce a black woman to her body parts. We are no longer on the auction block. We are no longer museum exhibits. If you deign to respect a black woman as a full human being, do not celebrate her accomplishments by pointing out the nappiness of her hair or the fullness of her booty.

I should have known better to expect something intelligent and proactive from Salon has disappointed me in the past with its commentaries on women’s bodies and its subtle alliances with misogyny. But Erin Aubry Kaplan’s ode to Michelle Obama’s backside has hit the rock bottom of the barrel.

Now don’t get me wrong. I will be very proud to call Michelle Obama the First Lady of the United States in January. I envy the little black girls who will grow up with the reality of seeing a sister in the White House. I believe her when she says she will be an active advocate for the local D.C. community. I believe her when she says she will make sure that Sasha and Malia receive the best while President-elect Obama leads as Chief Executive.

I even understand the appreciation of a role model like Michelle Obama having a body type common to African-American women. I get that.

But it’s one thing to evaluate Michelle Obama and the sum of her accomplishments. Undergraduate degree from Princeton University, law degree from Harvard University. Work at a top law firm before committing herself to a prominent fundraising and leadership position in a community hospital. Raising two beautiful daughters in what is, for all appearances, a loving marriage. Having a great sense of style and poise that many people admire. This woman, respectable as she is outside of the First Lady status, will join that legacy. It’s exciting.

It’s another to reduce that accomplishment to her backside. “Ooh, she has a booty like me!” Are we high? Well, I know I’m not; let me rephrase that. Are you high?

Actually, it took me and a lot of other similarly configured black women by surprise. So anxious and indignant were we about Michelle getting attacked for saying anything about America that conservatives could turn into mud, we hardly looked south of her neck. I noted her business suits and the fact she hardly ever wore pants (unlike Hillary). As I gradually relaxed, as Michelle strode onto more stages and people started focusing on her clothes and presence instead of her patriotism, it dawned on me — good God, she has a butt! “Obama’s baby (mama) got back,” wrote one feminist blogger. “OMG, her butt is humongous!” went a typical comment on one African-American online forum, and while it isn’t humongous, per se, it is a solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay.

First of all, black women do not own stock in ass. That’s a stereotype. Sir Mix-a-Lot was a pig then, and he’s a pig now. A woman’s value does not rest in her ass, no matter how much ass she has.

Second of all, on what planet is this sexist racist bullshit okay? Why do you think it is advantageous now to buy into it? And what gives you the right to carve up any woman’s body for “analysis,” if you can call this tripe analysis without being HIIIIIIGH on that stuff?

Thanks to Michelle, looking professional and provocative in a distinctly black way will become not only acceptable but also part of a whole presidential look that’s more, well, inclusive. Now we’ll all be able to wear leggings to board meetings; we’ll sport pencil skirts sans the long jackets meant to cover the offending rear at big conferences where we have to make a good impression.

Let’s examine the irony. You reduce a brilliant black woman to her ass because asses have traditionally been hypersexualized… and you now feel confident to have your ass out in the open because… it is magically desexualized in professional environments …by a brilliant black woman?

Sorry. When you, Ms. Kaplan, opt to let it all hang out, your CEO is gonna send around a company memo about the new VP of Affairs’ “butt [that] would not be denied.” And how long and strong the CEO’s wanted to put a hurtin’ on it.

Ms. Kaplan moves beyond admiration of another woman’s figure to placing her body up on the block for inspection. Reducing a brilliant woman to her “unprecedented” physicality is trafficking in age-old stereotypes of a black woman’s purpose in the world. In short: she’s not a damned mule, and if she really felt perturbed about people describing Michelle Obama as a horse or a giant ape, I don’t understand her motivation to shrink Mrs. O to a rump roast and a pressed coif.

Much love to the CFLF crew for giving peace and a young black sister a chance.

7 Responses to “Carved Up: Black Women and Bodily Integrity”

  1. tas says:

    Great first contribution, Sulvia.. Happy to see you around, reminding me why I stopped reading Salon. It’s the so-called hip pop culture writers how are really the worst. Here’s a hip pop culture article: “I made a stupid observation! Watch me drool about it for 20 paragraphs.” There, I just wrote every pop culture story Salon ever published; now I want my paycheck.

  2. rawdawg says:

    wow, is it really that serious

  3. Kathy says:

    Awesome piece, Sylvia. I love your writing style. Hip and colorful and irreverent. Keep it up, and welcome aboard. 🙂

  4. Welcome, Sylvia, great start!

    I don’t usually participate much in the comments section of posts, but this really did strike a chord in me, and had me instantly thinking about something Chris Matthews had said.

    It was right after Obama ran his thirty minute ad spot, and after some of the commentary Chris Matthews went in to full on rant mode and was talking about people who weren’t going to vote for Obama based on race, finally building to a crescendo of, “What more do you want?!”

    I know it’s a little different, but there’s a common thread here; one that also ties in with what a COC (comic of color) recently said; I can’t remember his name. That being that President Obama will likely have a serious affect on black humor because the kinds of routines that many African American stand up comics use tend to play off of these similar black cultural idiosyncracies, and with the election of a Obama it’s likely that you’re going to have a lot of people stand up and say, “That’s not us!”

    I guess what I’m getting at is this same rant from Chris Matthews, and the point you’re making as well. This is a highly educated woman who will in sixty-two days be our first lady, can we finally dispense with any kind of talk about whether her ass is suitably big enough to be stereotypically black? It was never right to begin with, but the Obamas have done everything they possibly could to not be objectified and codified according to racial and gender based stereotypes; what more do some of these people want?

  5. SylviaM says:

    Thank you everyone for the supportive comments! I appreciate it. 🙂

    Hehe, rawdawg, it is that serious. I’m sick of seeing this happen whenever a woman of color accomplishes something.

    I think I know the article you’re talking about, Kyle, and I don’t necessarily agree with the comic’s viewpoint that the Obama presidency will forever change how people view black Americans or how black Americans view themselves. It will perhaps place things into a lot more perspective and make incidences like these glaring. But we have a lot more changes to implement culturally, beyond just a symbolic and historic election, to really root out the racism and sexism that goes on daily.

  6. Oh, most definitely agreed. I was listening to one black comic on the radio yesterday who said, “We’ll have finally evened the playing field when you can’t say cracker or honkey on the radio just like you can’t say anything else.” He was joking, of course, but underneath the humor there was a point. The larger point being that yes, this election spoke volumes, but there are exponentially more volumes left to be written. The smaller point is that white privelege, and male privelege (which wasn’t part of his point, but I’ll throw it in anyway) still exists.

    I don’t expect to see an end to racism or sexism in my life time, but I think we’ll continue to move forward, slowly, often times painfully. It goes beyond just the mere establishment of a part of the vernacular as taboo, far beyond, and will involve a cultural and social evolution that will have to center around shifting the common further and further into the extreme until it is pushed off the map completely.

    But this is a momentous step, and one that I think will have ripple effects for generations to come.

  7. BraystreetLad says:

    FULLNESS OF HER BODY??????Another black woman who justifies being 5’4”,250+ cal-
    ling herself “full-figured”(translation:FAT.)For the record,I’m a classically handsome black lad(55,
    but said to look 15-20 years younger)and I judge EVERY babe by her bra size.GET OVER YOUR


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