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MacAllister
05-10-2012, 08:35 AM
So bear with me, folks - and if I show my ass, just tell me, please. I'm still fumbling towards understanding.

So I've been thinking a great deal about the vitriol aimed at Michelle Obama, and at Black women in general, and I'm wondering about the . . . crap, see, I don't even know how to talk about this . . . I guess, bluntly put, about the historical/cultural freight around Black female sexuality and power, and the transgressive nature of any hint of sexuality or power from Black women, in particular.

My own observations over the last thirty-odd years suggest that in contemporary American culture, women with lighter skin get points (Halle Berry), and it's only fairly recently that women like Ms. Berry are openly acknowledged as genuinely beautiful -- although historically, there's always been a sort of tacit acknowledgement of Black female beauty and sexuality, frex Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, or Nina Simone -- but they were jazz singers, which was a profession that, by its nature was considered out beyond the edges of social propriety...so, almost by definition, transgressive.

Now, that's not rocket science, I know -- but WTF is up with the way (generalizing "we" to mean as a nation and in our mainstream media) we're STILL so culturally uncomfortable with a strong, beautiful, intelligent woman in the White House that we don't apparently even know what to do? Are we afraid we'll be caught staring?

I suppose I should have been more prepared. I'm a huge Hillary Clinton fan, after all, and remember exactly how outraged and perplexed I was over the way the media and everyone from my parents' church talked about her -- I honestly thought Mrs. Obama's reception would be similar. Jokes about her appearance, her sexuality, and so on. I wasn't prepared for some of the really ugly stuff, though.

Is it really that big of a social crime, that terribly transgressive, for a woman to be strong, smart, beautiful, successful, and Black?

poetinahat
05-10-2012, 08:57 AM
I wonder if she risks a lot by not being aloof. It could be argued that a benign distance protected First Ladies in the past - not to say they weren't active or friendly, but how many First Ladies have appeared as approachable as Michelle Obama?

I dunno. It's a grubby world now that everyone has access to anonymous platforms via the internet, and they're emboldened by nationwide media trolls.

FoamyRules
05-10-2012, 09:30 AM
This is a topic that has so many answers and it can be very touchy for many. There's a misconception that black women are "at the bottom of the totem poll" meaning they are the least desired and the least successful and are expected to be (although that is far from the truth) Since I am a fourth black, I can't really say how that awful stereotype effects me, but I can tell you that people these days still feel that way.

Now with the first lady, she is strong, successful, and black and to many (and this is just my opinion) it can be intimidating. She doesn't fit into that stereotype that black women have bad attitudes and are always angry; she carries herself quite well and very professional. It may also have to do with the fact that a non white man has actually been elected as president and to some that is still quite shocking.

Not trying to step on anyone's toes here, but that's my opinion on the matter.

Lavern08
05-10-2012, 06:55 PM
...Now with the first lady, she is strong, successful, and black and to many (and this is just my opinion) it can be intimidating. She doesn't fit into that stereotype that black women have bad attitudes and are always angry, are uneducated and promiscuous, have babies out of wedlock and are on welfare.

She is articulate and carries herself quite well and very professional...

(^ Bold additions, are mine)


You nailed it. ;)

Jcomp
05-10-2012, 07:50 PM
Is it really that big of a social crime, that terribly transgressive, for a woman to be strong, smart, beautiful, successful, and Black?

The short answer is "yes." Not as much as it has been in the past, but it's still a combination of qualities that a portion of the population finds inherently offensive and intimidating. A woman who is a racial minority will have to face racism and misogyny, and if she does well for herself then it's going to magnify the vitriol because all the detractors have left to attack with are their (often unimaginative) words.

Kitty Pryde
05-10-2012, 08:50 PM
I think white folks' fear of the sexuality of black folks (I use these terms generally but not inclusively) goes right back to the slave era in this country, if not further. It was considered an entirely different and wilder force. Black men were something white women needed protecting from, and black women were something to be used by white men. Back in the 21st century some people are still uncomfortable with black women's agency and power, sexual and otherwise. (The terrible view of black people's sexuality also has a lot to do with the AA community's antigay tendencies today, I think. Like, if you're black and gay, you're proving racists right, that there is something inherently wrong with black people's sexuality.) Someone who knows more about this can feel free to chime in or correct me!

thebloodfiend
05-10-2012, 09:07 PM
The terrible view of black people's sexuality also has a lot to do with the AA community's antigay tendencies today, I think. Like, if you're black and gay, you're proving racists right, that there is something inherently wrong with black people's sexuality.) Someone who knows more about this can feel free to chime in or correct me!

You're not far off with that. My entire family has no "inherent" problems with gays, as in, they aren't raging against gay marriage and gay teachers. There are three out lesbians, and one out (and dead) gay guy. But everyone assumes that they were molested when they were young, hence "turned" gay.They're viewed in the same light as the cousin who almost married a white biker dude. To be viewed with pity.

I'm so glad I barely spend time with them. I understand why they're the way they are, but that doesn't mean it doesn't piss me off sometimes.

BigWords
05-10-2012, 10:50 PM
This is going to be a long post. Sorry. Covering a lot of ground here.


My own observations over the last thirty-odd years suggest that in contemporary American culture, women with lighter skin get points (Halle Berry), and it's only fairly recently that women like Ms. Berry are openly acknowledged as genuinely beautiful -- although historically, there's always been a sort of tacit acknowledgement of Black female beauty and sexuality, frex Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, or Nina Simone -- but they were jazz singers, which was a profession that, by its nature was considered out beyond the edges of social propriety...so, almost by definition, transgressive.

Actually, Josephine Baker is arguably more important than later examples of colored women who bristled with sexuality (her status as a sex symbol is clear when you see just how much she, and her act, is referenced in the first part of the twentieth century), but the barriers were still up at that point, so... IDK. There were numerous portraits around that era of women who were chosen specifically for their looks - my French art history is rusty, so someone with more appreciation for that era's art can probably fill in those gaps.

You missed out the eighties, and (for me, anyway) the appearance and acceptance of Naomi Campbell - however much of a bitch she turned out to be - was one of the big moments in British culture. Here was a woman who people could look up to (the image, if not the abuse of her employees) and held up as an image of beauty. That there hasn't been an important colored model since then, to the degree that they have become a household name, is something which really bugs me.

By the nineties there was actresses such as Angela Bassett (watch her kick all kinds of ass in Strange Days and try to tell me she isn't awesome), so the image of strong, intelligent colored women was there even at that point. My focus was on her throughout the film, not the rather useless Juliette Lewis, who is pretty much there as eye candy, though didn't half half the personality. *shrug* Not sure how that figures in, but it was striking for me.


I think white folks' fear of the sexuality of black folks (I use these terms generally but not inclusively) goes right back to the slave era in this country, if not further.

The Annie Palmer story plays into that a lot. I'll leave commentary on that to someone else...


Like, if you're black and gay, you're proving racists right, that there is something inherently wrong with black people's sexuality.


But everyone assumes that they were molested when they were young, hence "turned" gay.They're viewed in the same light as the cousin who almost married a white biker dude. To be viewed with pity.

Again I find myself coming back to the issue of education - it is because some people are so disconnected from what is going on around them that they find things (outside of their understanding) scary and not to their liking. It isn't an excuse for their behavior, but if people are taught that, yes, different lifestyles are normal, then some of the misogynist and racist shit will die back. We're never going to get rid of the rampant idiocy, but instead of cultures or cliques (and I know I'm using the wrong words here, but I'm at a loss to be all-inclusive to nationalities, religions, sexual preference and everything else) sticking to themselves, more interaction would show that people are just people.

There's a lot of demonization going on (specifically xenophobia in the UK right now, which fits in to the conversation), and a lot of it is probably down to people being insufficiently exposed to individuals from other backgrounds.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this...

Raventongue
05-11-2012, 04:06 AM
a lot of it is probably down to people being insufficiently exposed to individuals from other backgrounds.

This. I'm sure this is a big part of it.

People even invent little things to fight over nowadays. Cat Person vs. Dog Person, Busy vs Chill, Butt-Watcher vs Chest-Oggler, just mundane eyerolling stuff like that. In that kind of climate all the pre-existing racist and bigoted shit is going to be vastly intensified.

And on a purely sociological level, there are a surprising number of people simply stuck in the Stone Age. Somewhere along the line it started getting progressively easier to only associate with people similar to oneself, and now small-minded folks don't always have to learn different.

Seems to me like a lot of bigoted folks are that way out of greed- they want to have someone to kick around. When you strip their priviledge away, the insults are their way of throwing a tantrum about it.

BigWords
05-11-2012, 04:18 AM
I was thinking as I was typing (which is probably why I trailed off so abruptly there), but - making a concerted effort here - I have to say that as much as the positive reinforcement which the media is placing on strong, attractive intelligent women of color, there will always be a hesitation there. Even in Serenity, the only colored female character of significance loses her (white) husband - there is a message in there, somewhere. And a cheesy old action flick comes to mind with (I think) Lisa Bonet. There is a scene which is there for the sole purpose of the (white) star to gaze at her boobs as she is washing her hair. Seriously.

Ken
05-11-2012, 05:32 AM
... was disturbed as well by the reception Hilary got. A lot of the public really did seem to be uncomfortable about her being direct and speaking on issues forcefully and that seemed to coincide with the so-called definitions of what femininity did and did not include. Know what though? I think to a fair degree she changed that perception and unfair way of thinking, especially when she gained the high government office she has now. Attitudes can change. Kudos to her. Michelle Obama is doing similar though not to the same degree, at least as yet. She definitely makes a dignified first lady and someone we can all be proud of.

poetinahat
05-11-2012, 06:17 AM
You missed out the eighties, and (for me, anyway) the appearance and acceptance of Naomi Campbell - however much of a bitch she turned out to be - was one of the big moments in British culture. Here was a woman who people could look up to (the image, if not the abuse of her employees) and held up as an image of beauty. That there hasn't been an important colored model since then, to the degree that they have become a household name, is something which really bugs me...

I agree with the premise. But what about, say, Tyra Banks, Iman, and Alek Wek? And surely there are powerful black women who aren't supermodels. I mean, there are women like Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey to consider. When Steve Earle writes a love song to a Republican ("Condi Condi"), you know she must have a presence.

Of course, maybe the exceptions prove the rules?

Having said all that, my absolute favorite entertainment personality, regardless of race, gender or anything else, is Grace Jones. I was amused to hear her say, during an appearance on Later... with Jools Holland a couple years ago, that music had always been her love (her music is brilliant), and the modelling was something she did as a sideline (she even said - somewhat demurely - that it felt "something like prostitution" to her).

Anyhoo. She's dark, she's female, she's gorgeous, she's assertive, she's now about sixty and still all that, and apparently she scares the crap out of the world. A fierce guy on stage is, well, a badass. But a fierce black woman is somehow a freak. Hmmm.

BigWords
05-11-2012, 06:37 AM
I agree with the premise. But what about, say, Tyra Banks, Iman, and Alek Wek? And surely there are powerful black women who aren't supermodels. I mean, there are women like Condoleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey to consider. When Steve Earle writes a love song to a Republican ("Condi Condi"), you know she must have a presence.

*cough* Born in 1978, so my recollections of the 80s is tempered by screenings material of television and what few periodicals I have which covered current events. You're spot on with Oprah - she's one of the few US presenters whose work managed to get national broadcast for any degree of time. Not sure if she was here before the merger of the various smaller channels across the UK into ITV, but she was the only presenter who lasted through to the rise of all the satellite channels (where those other names slowly started making their presence felt again).


She's dark, she's female, she's gorgeous, she's assertive, she's now about sixty and still all that, and apparently she scares the crap out of the world. A fierce guy on stage is, well, a badass. But a fierce black woman is somehow a freak. Hmmm.

I forgot about Grace Jones (the problem with typing as the thoughts come) - there is an excellent clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpWo15Jc2JQ) from Russell Harty's chat show which demonstrates just how dismissive people are of her - hell, even the voiceover makes it seem like she is somehow having a breakdown on live television. The context of the clip is important - here's a star (a major international star, at that) whom the presenter has turned his back on and is ignoring what she has to say. That point, that the reaction was completely justified, has been lost in what quickly became another moment to be used unthinkingly in shows made up of old clips. Given that she was (and is) better known than the host, there is no way such a snub should have been allowed in the first place.

backslashbaby
05-11-2012, 06:39 AM
I think they've never seen a Black woman as a demure little Princess Frou Frou, and that's what freaks them out so much:

'Do Black women want to be demure little malleable things? Surely White women who don't succeed at that are easy to figure out: ugly and jealous.

But these strange Black women kinda act like they don't even want to be the blonde prom queen. What's up with that, anyway?'

It blows their minds. That isn't very difficult to do or anything, but that's my take on it fwiw.

Kitty27
05-11-2012, 08:56 AM
Mac,Michelle Obama gets hit with things Hillary will never have to worry about and that is the double whammy of sexism and racism.
There is a serious mindfuck the world tries to pull on Black women.

Our features,such as full lips and curvaceous bottoms,are ONLY beautiful when they are present on Angelina Jolie and Kim Kardashian. Not so for us.But I believe our acceptance of being thick and loving it made an impact on mainstream media. Someone like Kim K would have been called a gigantic woman just a few years ago. Beyonce and her bootyliciousness made a lot of women realize it's not so bad to have curves.

Being strong willed,handling our own and accepting our bodies and being proud of them-traits that mainstream feminism admires- become bossy,too demanding,overly confident and emasculating when applied to us.

Black women,since slavery,were denied and stripped of BOTH our humanity and femininity. Such was done to justify slavery and the Jezebel archetype of an overly sexualized creature was used to explain away mass rape as White men being tempted by these same creatures uncontrollable lust. After all,we weren't human women just as Black men were bucks and animal like.

These attitudes are still around today. Halle Berry is safe. She has been the de facto representation of Black female beauty,reinforcing colorism in the Black community and presenting an image of beauty to the mainstream they can tolerate. Darker women get no such love. Vanessa Bell Calloway is just as beautiful as Vanessa Williams but their careers are vastly different. Angela Bassett can out act Halle Berry in her sleep but doesn't get the same amount of adulation.

Black women have two images in current media,both archetypes from the antebellum era. One is the desexualized Mammy seen in "The Help". She has no life,always overweight, has no sexuality and is always presented as downtrodden but doing her best to be the Noble caretaker to others. She's safe and non threatening to the dominant image of White beauty. Mrs.O is so far away from this archetype that she might as well be in outerspace.

The other is the Jezebel,reborn as rap video vixens. All she does is dance,walk around half naked and gives it up to any man she comes across. Sapphire is still around,too. The domineering and controlling beast who strips a man of his masculinity. This one right here is dominant in the Black community as many Black men swear we are the Anti-Christ. Her twin sister is the new archetype,the hood rat. Again,Mrs.O is a thousand miles away from these archetypes.

As long as a Black woman fits the above archetypes,it's easier and comfortable for racist folks to justify their beliefs about Black women. But when one like Michelle Obama-educated,elegant,and eloquent- comes along and ISN"T light skinned or Biracial,this totally throws folks minds because many Whites equate the above traits with someone at least half White or closer to their ideal of beauty.

She's dark so she's ugly. She's too educated so she's uppity. She's elegant so she's reaching above her station. She speaks well so she's much too strident. For many people in this country who are racist,Mrs. Obama doesn't fit the stereotypes they were taught and believe. They can't understand or accept what they have been taught isn't true. They can't believe that,OMG!,she's just like them. This messes with their belief in racial superiority and horror of horrors,they would have to accept her as an equal. This is something that can't and won't do. They look for anything to tear her down.

What makes it even worse is Mrs. O gives less than a damn about their opinion and it shows. She still keeps her head up,still looks good,and still has that swag in her step.

Dawnstorm
05-15-2012, 05:24 AM
I suppose I should have been more prepared. I'm a huge Hillary Clinton fan, after all, and remember exactly how outraged and perplexed I was over the way the media and everyone from my parents' church talked about her -- I honestly thought Mrs. Obama's reception would be similar. Jokes about her appearance, her sexuality, and so on. I wasn't prepared for some of the really ugly stuff, though.

Is it really that big of a social crime, that terribly transgressive, for a woman to be strong, smart, beautiful, successful, and Black?

Hm, I'm wondering whether part of it is the inherent conservatism of the very concept of a "first lady". The President needs to be married, to a woman. That woman is a person, too, and she needs to have certain traits, but they reflect on the President rather than on her. I'm going about this in a very simplified manner to make the core point stand out. I haven't really thought this through yet, and I'm not equipped to do it without research. For example, I don't know what Michelle Obama actually does. Over here (in Austria) I only ever hear of her in the society pages of the news papers, which I tend to ignore.

What I'm wondering is this: If the "first family" is a sort of role-model for an idealised version of family, then people paying attention to what they do would in some way care about that ideal. So I wonder whether a social role such as "first lady" systematically draws disappointment from people who already mourn a dead (or dying) past. Any -ism can apply. I've always wondered what it's like to play the role of "first lady".

My personal uneducated and over-seas impression is that the Obamas are much closer to the ideal than the Clintons ever were. (They even got themselves a dog. The Clintons, IIRC, had a cat.) If your hobby is bitching about the first lady's transgressions against good old family values, it seems to be a lot harder to pick on Michelle Obama than on Hillary Clinton. So if you're among priviledged white traditionalists, you'll pick up the one thing that remains...

But again, I'd need to see what they're saying, and who's actually saying it, and in what contexts. I'm utterly unaware of the racist talk; doesn't make it across the pond. Just a thought.

Marya
05-15-2012, 09:17 AM
I've been thinking about this thread and wondering about the way in which racism and misogyny work together. We went through similar tabloid and media attacks on Winnie Mandela when she and Nelson Mandela divorced. For 27 years Winnie had been under house arrest at Brandfort, had been spied on, harassed and manipulated by various political parties and secret police, had emerged as a strong and controversial political leader in her own right.

Nobody out here in South Africa would deny she is a complex and at times problematic political figure. But in the media, her appearance and weight, her supposed promiscuity, her assertiveness, her refusal to just be the Great Statesman's former wife and retire quietly into the background were all topics for speculation and slander. She has been accused of witchcraft, of madness and of being a 'she-devil'. No other male politician of the ANC has ever been subjected to such bizarre and hostile scrutiny. She was adulated and abhorred as the 'Mother of the Nation' and seen as an 'earth mother' gone wrong. I have no idea what stereotypes come into play around strong African women with political power, but the notion seems to trigger some kind of misogynist projection and irrational fear. Ugly stuff.