Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Michelle Obama at Slave Auction

There's no other way for me to conceptualize this other than the kind of physical examination of black chattel by white traders at a slave auction: Erin Aubry Kaplan's discussion of Michelle Obama's bottom represents one of the lowest, most explicitly race-conscious - and hence racist - essays imaginable.

The piece, "
First Lady Got Back," is written from the perspective of one black woman admiring another, but for the life of me I can't fathom the rationale for publishing an essay like this at a major journal at time when the country is supposed to be transcending. There is no decency here, and no class. This part is especially revealing in its degradation of Mrs. Obama:

From the ocean of nastiness and confusion that defined this campaign from the beginning, Michelle rose up like Venus on the waves, keeping her coif above water and cruising the coattails of history to present us with a brand-new beauty norm before we knew it was even happening.

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. Try as Michelle might to cover it with those Mamie Eisenhower skirts and sheath dresses meant to reassure mainstream voters, the butt would not be denied.

As America fretted about Obama's exoticism and he sought to calm the waters with speeches about unity and common experience, Michelle's body was sending a different message: To hell with biracialism! Compromise, bipartisanship? Don't think so. Here was one clear signifier of blackness that couldn't be tamed, muted or otherwise made invisible. It emerged right before our eyes, in the midst of our growing uncertainty about everything, and we were too bogged down in the daily campaign madness to notice. The one clear predictor of success that the pundits, despite all their fancy maps, charts and holograms, missed completely? Michelle's butt.

Lord knows, it's time the butt got some respect. Ever since slavery, it's been both vilified and fetishized as the most singular of all black female features, more unsettling than dark skin and full lips, the thing that marked black women as uncouth and not quite ready for civilization (of course, it also made them mighty attractive to white men, which further stoked fears of miscegenation that lay at the heart of legal and social segregation). In modern times, the butt has demarcated class and stature among black society itself. Emphasizing it or not separates dignified black women from ho's, party girls from professionals, hip-hop from serious. (Black women are not the only ones with protruding behinds, by the way, but they're certainly considered its source. How many gluteally endowed nonblack women have been derided for having a black ass? Well, Hillary, for one.)
Erin Aubry Kaplan is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times who happens to be black. If a white conservative columnist published this at, say, the Wall Street Journal or the Weekly Standard, the Democratic-left would be up in arms with yet another cry of racism!

My first thought when getting to the section about Mrs. Obama's "solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay" was thinking that here's what the slave traders would be saying, back in 1830, if the president-elect's wife was stripped naked and slathered in oil, tied to a post up on a "stage" while an auctioneer made the case for a strong "field nigger" with "solid hindquarters" and sharp muscle tone conducive to long, stooped hours picking cotton, with the added bonus of a "near-burble" skin to withstand the searing midday sun.

Anyone who's read classic novels like Jubilee or Uncle Tom's Cabin has some recollection of the dehumanizing nature of the chattel slave markets.

Erin Aubrey Kaplan should know better.

Captain Ed's
got more.


shoprat said...

Leave it to the media to reduce the First Lady to a centerfold. If you don't respect the person (and to be perfectly honest I don't) you need to at least treat the position with a bit of dignity.

Jan said...

I thought the word "ho" was supposed to be off-limits in any context, now.

Whatever that essay was meant to convey, it came across as vulgar, and disrespectful.

It bothers me as much as all the mean-spirited remarks made about Governor Palin.

What was the point?

King Politics said...

I'll agree with you on this one. Pretty stupid.

Average American said...

And for the funniest comment I found following all those links, my vote goes to.......

....I just saw a newsclip of Michelle Obama wearing stretch pants. OMG, her butt is humongous! When she walked, it looked like a couple of mature hogs wrasslin' under a blanket!
We CAN'T have a first lady with a butt that big. We'll be the laughing stock of the world!....

What a visual!

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Writer Erin Aubry Kaplan has touched a serious nerve. Or in this case, a butt!

Even popular entertainment website has jumped into the fray over the controversial piece on Michelle Obama's derriere that has cyberspace buzzing. "One thing that hasn't been pointed about our new First Lady -- her bootyliciousness. just decided to go there with Michelle Obama, with a black woman fully laying out an appreciation of Mrs. O’s back side: She has coruscating intelligence, beauty, style and -- drumroll, please -- a butt, writes Kaplan. Yes, you read that right: I'm going to talk about the first lady's butt."

Wednesday November 19 on The Kevin Ross Show, Ms. Kaplan appeared and faced head-on the firestorm she created that has everyone talking.

Is the soon-to-be First Lady being unfairly sexualized, or does her figure represent a triumph for women of color with “real curves”? What was the real motivation behind the article?

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