Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Michelle Obama, First Lady

I've been refraining from blogging about Prince Von Anhalt's racist comment about Michelle Obama, that she looks like a washerwoman. But this morning as I reflect on the strides that Black women have taken to deconstruct and challenge the pervasive racist and stereotypical images of themselves as not only washerwomen, but whores, bitches (sorry dad), venus hottentots, welfare queens (thanks to Clarence Thomas), and many other pejorative appellations that are too numerous to enumerate in this blog, I cannot remain silent.

Prince Von Anhalt's racist comment is not just about Michelle Obama, but it is about Black women whose physiognomies do not replicate the European and Euroamerican standard of beauty. Those of us who are not light, bright, and almost white need to be in the streets protesting, because Von Anhalt, an unapologetic racist, is only echoing what no citizen of this country will dare say aloud to the media; although I have had one African American girlfriend wish that Michelle Obama looked more like Suzanne Malveaux. My girlfriend's pronouncement has caused me to reassess our friendship, for I look more like Michelle Obama than Suzanne Malveaux, so in my warped analytical mind I'm thinking so how does my girlfriend really feel about me.

For many persons, the idea of a First Lady who is African American is enough to cause them to give up their U.S. citizenship. For others, the plausibility of a First Lady who is African American and brown skin is a deep-seated betrayal. How can this possibly happen? Why didn't that biracial man marry a light-skinned African American woman or a white woman? Wouldn't this make the country's acceptance of a Black president easier if his wife just looked more white?

Well, you know me, I want Barack to win, Michelle gracefully to assume the role of First Lady, and hey, I'll drop by the White House and lock her hair; then folks can really do backwards flips. But at least when she visits the Middle East she won't have to keep raising her hand to her head to press down her hair that won't lie down missionary style, like our Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was so preoccupied with her hair during a state visit to the Middle East that I felt sorry for the sister and yelled at the television, "girl you know you're supposed to braid that stuff up when it's hot outside; what's wrong with you?"

With all joking aside, it's not just about hair and skin color, it is about Michelle Obama representing a sort of unadulterated blackness, for it is about her strength, her presence, her support of her husband, her love for her husband and daughters, her working-class background, and the inability to decenter her. I see these characteristics in Michelle Obama that I have witnessed in so many "washerwomen" who held families together by taking in laundry when their husbands could not find work, were run off or killed by white terrorists, or when their husbands' wages were not enough to provide for their families.

So if Michelle Obama represents the washerwoman in Von Anhalt's mind, then she embraces a legacy of tenacity. While I am not misjudging or minimizing the economic assault on black women's labor that the washerwoman signifies, I am celebrating the symbolism of the washerwoman as an icon of black strength. So Von Anhalt, you may see the washerwoman as the silent black woman who does your laundry, but in the historiography of black communities, the washerwoman is a force to be reckoned with, and you better watch out when she starts doing the laundry.


Randall Horton said...

well said. i really do hope she locks it up in when she gets in the white house. a powerful meesage it would send to young girls who still have to deal with the pressure of westernize beauty and trying to emulate it.good post....

M. L. Simms said...

Randall, thanks for your comment. I have such anxiety about the challenges that the Obama's will face. Nonetheless, I am certain that they have discussed them and have made a prudent decision. And yes, having Michelle Obama as the First Lady will shift some of dynamics around black women's representation. This will be so beneficial to some of our girls. In fact, I don't doubt that the shift is already happening.

E. said...

You know what's funny....

My mother's favorit cousin is a jet black sister with a small afro.

I keep thinking about her.

Where do women like her fit in the equation? Or women like my aunt who also not skinny or got her hair permed.

I think we tend to forget that there is more than the light skin/passing bias that's playing out here...

ya' know?