White Feminists Who Think Of Michelle Obama’s Identity As An Assault On Their Own Identities
Previously I wrote about my irritation with some White feminists’ criticisms of Michelle Obama. When they blame Michelle Obama for not being their Black feminist mascot and for not doing feminism “right,” which means not being a White woman from head to toe, and in ideology, their hostility doesn’t go unnoticed. When they claim that feminism has died because Michelle, a Black mother, is proud of being a mother (“mom-in-chief” as she says) of her OWN children, (especially considering the history of Black women raising White women’s children for CENTURIES for free/by force, and later for small income, and spending less time with their own children, while White women got much of what they desired in terms of careers and power by being free to pursue them), their hostility doesn’t go unnoticed.
I know the divide is there, between White women who believe themselves to be feminists, or not, and Black women, womanists/feminists or not. What sits in this divide is how White supremacy is shaping the former’s identity and how White privilege allows denial of its existence in the first place.
While White feminists (or even Black ones who are busy being White feminists’ puppets and proselytizing ideas that only benefit White women) are busy attacking Michelle Obama, some Black women, womanists/feminists or not, have their ears perked up. When they assert that Michelle is destroying feminism, Black women are in fact more inclined to explore the realities that Black women from Sojourner Truth to today’s Alice Walker and Kimberlè Crenshaw clearly spoke to. These women knew that there’s something very specific that Black women must assert beyond whatever White women (and Black men, for that matter) won’t understand, will misrepresent, will attack or will not care about. Every time a White feminist asserts that Michelle Obama kills feminism, what actually happens is that it awakens in another Black woman. They examine the attacks and realize that yes, something is very fishy amidst this “raceless, all women unite” version of feminism that seeks to marginalize and punish Black women, and are that more resolved to pursue their own lives and perspectives. Some will gladly push back on this White supremacy that some White women have told themselves is feminism. These White supremacist, ahistorical notions that Black women should only want what White women want and only do what White women want because we are “all women” ignores who Black women in America truly are.
In addition to this, something more sinister is occurring and confront it I must. I already started to when I discussed (in the same post linked in the first sentence) some White feminists’ opposition to Michelle Obama (or her daughters) being considered beautiful, a description that she and Black women at large are supposed to reject in the name of “gender progress,” while overall, beauty is still deemed a synonym with Whiteness. How utterly convenient for White feminists and White women at large.
The reality is when Michelle Obama is considered beautiful, she’s treading on what’s been deemed White women’s space amidst society.
When Michelle is considered smart in relation to power, she’s treading on what’s been deemed White men’s space amidst society, and later, a handful of White women’s/Black men’s space in society.
When Michelle is considered well-educated, experienced, powerful, and until 2006 amidst her family, she was the primary “breadwinner,” this fits with what White feminists want for her, but also narrows her identity to being solely about work and power—stereotypes that Whites at large (including many White feminists) want to keep Black women bound by in their quest to have us interpreted as less feminine and less womanly (and thus not deserving of legal protections or love/compassion; since power in this context is still written off as “masculine”) so that their White femininity and womanhood remains centered amidst patriarchal or feminist perspectives.
When Michelle is considered a warm, loving mother, imparting wisdom and kindness to her children, she’s treading on what’s been deemed White women’s space amidst society. Societal love for an obedient Black mammy (raising White children) or maid figure is NOT the same thing as love, respect and the desire for agency for Black women as MOTHERS of their own children. The latter scarcely exists. Further, the narrative of the “stay-at-home” mom is one written as a luxury and honor for White women and a plague and disgrace for Black women, as class permeates these narratives. Michelle isn’t the socioeconomically disadvantaged Black mother who is denied the right to stay home with her children, so how race plays into this narrative as well as class becomes even more apparent. Many White women want to OWN the entire perception of “good motherhood.”
When Michelle is considered a loving and supportive wife, who’s crazy in love with her husband, a husband who values her, finds her beautiful, and is impressed by her intelligence and compassion, she’s treading on what’s been deemed White women’s space amidst society. She’s not living the stereotypical narrative that Black women don’t desire romantic love, never feel pain, dehumanize and destroy Black men, and that supportive and loving wives only come in White. (Also, the way she is supportive and loving doesn’t contradict her own agency, intelligence or accomplishments, a contradiction that many patriarchal Black men require of Black women. President Obama doesn’t require this of her as he rejects this problematic idea of a marriage.)
When Michelle is fully aware of her “corporate” résumé and accomplishments, and still gets passionate about nutrition, gardening, exercise and military families, she’s treading on what’s been deemed White women’s goals in society—“having everything,” which honestly doesn’t even boil down to “everything” for White women, but is really “look, I have both traditionally male and female roles! I won!” (Silly me…I thought feminism was about choices, removing stumbling blocks to choices and having the agency to choose/pursue.)
I don’t think this is even Michelle’s goal—having “everything”—however. She seems genuinely concerned with shifting her roles in accordance to who she thinks the First Lady should be. Being an Ivy League graduate, licensed attorney and hospital administrator while being a loving mother and wife was part of her previous life. Her current life, one by choice, is being a beacon of health, education, and support for children and military families, being a loving wife and mother, and an intelligent and compassionate First Lady who’s an example of what the best in America is like. And…she’s not White.
“How can she be all of this and not be White?” This seems to be the question that plagues some White feminists who refuse to check their White privilege and seem completely unclear as to how ahistorical, White supremacist ideas have poisoned what they think feminism should mean for Black women and themselves.
How can Michelle be all of this….excellence? Doesn’t matter. She is. Thus, the question then becomes “for how long will some White women, feminist or not, project their insecurities concerning their identities on to Michelle, and all Black women, by proxy, instead of examining how White supremacy has shaped some of their identity facets in the first place, and how White privilege keeps them in denial of this fact?” This is the question that they need to ask themselves before they send another tweet, post another blog, write another article, sit on another panel, publish another book and most of all, engage in another conversation with a Black woman (especially one who identifies as a womanist/feminist) on the topic of Michelle Obama.
Meanwhile back at the ranch…Michelle Obama has an approval rating of over 70%, higher than anyone else with a political role, is living her life, is a role model to many women, Black and otherwise, is a happy wife and mom, is a well-educated, experienced intellectual, is a symbol of beauty, style and fashion, is passionate about her work to improve the health and lives of children and military families and has a great deal of passion and potential that will go well beyond 2016, though it doesn’t have to be in some official political office or as a Black mascot for White feminists. It doesn’t mean she’s above responsible critique…not at all (no one is); it means that the racialized, ahistorical, anti-intersectional nature of many of the critiques by some White feminists (and their Black puppets) have had their bluffs called; and not just by me as a Womanist, but by many Black womanists/feminists, our White allies (who reject White supremacist ideals of feminism that some White feminists embrace, are fully aware of White privilege and are only interested feminism that is intersectional)….and in fact…by Black women at large.
Yeah…we see you…