>Black and white feminists historically have never been best of friends. The two groups routinely bumped heads on issues such as voting rights for black men (which white feminists decried as they hadn’t received the right to vote yet) and how the third-wave feminist/women’s right movement would proceed in publicizing their cause.
However, over the past three decades these two groups have come together on causes such as abortion rights, access to quality reproductive health care and electing political candidates who will protect the rights of women. These feminists have come together to denounce and criticize faux feminists Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, who regularly site their gender as to why they are facing such harsh attacks on their right-wing, anti-female comments and agendas. These two groups of feminists see through conservative women’s attempts to claim sexism as women like Palin and Bachmann have consistently shown they could care less about feminists platforms.
Where the white feminist movement continues to fall short is its reluctance to rally behind women of color in the spotlight. Case in point is the limited outcry–hailing mainly from black feminists blogs such as Womanist Musings–over Rush Limbaugh calling FLOTUS Michelle Obama fat. Here’s the video of what the fat man himself had to say:
I’m sure you’re aware that nutritionist-at-large Michelle Obama is urging, demanding, advocating, requiring what everybody can and can’t eat. She is demanding that everybody basically eat cardboard and tofu. No calories, no fat, no nothing — gotta stop obesity. Except as in the case of all leftists, that’s true for you, but not for them.
Michelle My Belle, minus the husband, took the kids out to Vail on a ski vacation, and they were spotted eating and they were feasting on ribs, ribs that were 1,575 calories per serving with 141 grams of fat per serving. Now I’m sure some of you members of the new castrati: “This is typical of what you do Mr. Limbaugh, you take an isolated, once in a lifetime experience, and try to say that she’s a hypocrite.” She is a hypocrite. Leaders are supposed to be leaders. If we’re supposed to go out and eat nothing — if we’re supposed to eat roots, and berries and tree bark and so show us how. And if it’s supposed to make us fit, if it’s supposed to make us healthier, show us how.
The problem is — and dare I say this — it doesn’t look like Michelle Obama follows her own nutritionary, dietary advice. And then we hear that she’s out eating ribs at 1,500 calories a serving with 141 grams of fat per serving, yeah it does — what do you mean, what do I mean?
What is it – no, I’m trying to say that our First Lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you. I mean, women are under constant pressure to look lithe, and Michelle My Belle is out there saying if you eat the roots and tree bark and the berries and all this cardboard stuff you will live longer, be healthier and you won’t be obese. Okay, fine, show us.
Let me get this quick rant out the way: Rush Limbaugh’s comments are not only sexist, but they reflect how deeply patriarchal and capitalists ideals have been embedded into our society. Michelle Obama doesn’t mirror the size 0 image shoved down the throats to women and girls via glam/femme magazines and that makes her public enemy number one in the eyes of sexist,
racist men like Limbaugh. Any woman who refuses to succumb to the pressure of unrealistic, unattainable body image expectations are in turn viewed as The Ugly Duckling who will never amount to anything.
Limbaugh’s attacks on FLOTUS is the first in a number of events where Michelle Obama’s image was attacked. Just last week, Andrew Breitbart, the famed conservative hack whose failed attempt to sabotage an Obama administration official to admitting being a racist made him a household name, posted on his website a cartoon, mocking FLOTUS as gorging on hamburgers while sitting next to POTUS.
As I stated earlier, black bloggers have taken the lead in defending FLOTUS, but absent have been the legions of white women who, too, are affected by the unfair, unattainable body image standards patriarchy and capitalism have bestowed upon us. To be fair, Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel blogged about Limbaugh’s attacks, but a brief search on Feministing.com’s website for “Michelle Obama” and “Rush Limbaugh” pulled up nothing on Limbaugh’s defamation of the first lady’s character.
But overall, the white female establishment has been mum on defending Michelle Obama. Where are the voices of Gloria Steinem? Naomi Wolf? Where are the young white feminists who supposedly grew up in a culture that’s placed less emphasis on color and claim to not see color? You would think even Sarah Palin would come to FLOTUS’ defense as she’s raising daughters who are also trapped in a world that views their bodies as eternally flawed unless they are the splitting image of the latest supermodel. But nothing has been espoused from the mouths of women, whether liberal or conservative.
So, why hasn’t the white feminist community come to the defense of FLOTUS?
The failure of white women to rally behind the nation’s most popular woman in the world and wholly denounce Limbaugh’s patriarchal/pro-capitalist critique of FLOTUS’ body magnifies the rifts between black and white feminists that have been dormant for decades. While there have been some solidarity on key wedge issues, black and white feminists continue to bump heads on the issue of protecting black womanhood.
Unlike white women, black women for centuries have had the undue burden of being the sole guardians of their bodies and their womanhood. Historically, black men and white women, obsessed with their own advancement, have routinely pushed advocating for our rights and sanctity onto the back burner. Black men have historically told us that with their advancement over the white patriarchal, racist system, black women will also advance with them. The white feminist movement have told us that we, as a whole, aren’t women and our everyday concerns and hardships aren’t worth the battle of the feminist movement.
The white feminist establishment, in its warped view, has nothing to gain by defending black womanhood.
As a whole, black women still are not viewed as the ideal woman by a majority of Americans and the white feminist establishment reflects this ungodly perception. The white feminist establishment, unfortunately, remains bound by the racist constructs put forth that seek to denigrate and deny black women basic rights. The establishment’s reluctance to recognize this line of thinking and how it influences how they operate prevents both groups from forming an alliance needed to bring down the destructive patriarchal system.
It’s disheartening, but not surprising, the white feminist establishment feels no need to come to Michelle Obama’s defense as its nucleus fails to recognize and understand the extra blanket of racism black women have to deal with along with sexism in a patriarchal environment. Its core of supporters fail to understand how the white feminist movement operates in a white privilege bubble that doesn’t require white feminists to look at racial constructs, as well as sexist constructs, as a destructive force to the advancement of black women in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
This collective silence by the white feminist establishment will have black feminist and womanists pondering the same question Sojourner Truth asked to a group of white female abolitionists in 1851: Ain’t I A Woman?