I came across this cartoon while reading the New York Times’ Week in Review this morning.
This cartoon put me into a momentary rage for a number of reasons.
First of all, Wanda Sykes was just down-right funny at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
Secondly, I am tired of the silent conversation we are having about race, class, gender and Michelle Obama. I’ve been traveling a good deal lately and have overheard more than my fair share of these conversations in cramped airplanes and somewhat less cramped airport bars. They go a little something like this: “…and how about that Michelle Obama. She is just so (a pause to search for the right word)…classy.”
Now, I’m a big Michelle Obama fan too. I love her style and her arms. But I don’t love how the the word “classy” is silently standing in for a a host of other words often used to describe the type of Black woman that Michelle Obama is not i.e. the term used with alarming frequency at the moment: ghetto. In short, Michelle Obama is not a “ghetto chick” (or any other equally derogatory term used to describe poor, Black women) and that’s why so many ladies (and men) –white and Black–love her.
It is the casual illustration of this hierarchy of Black femininity that put me into my momentary rage. Sykes is a comedian. Her jokes, like those of Stephen Colbert, who provided an expert performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner during the Bush Administration years, are open to criticism. But to say that she has no class is to critique her performance as a particular type of Black woman. To dismiss her in this way is to say that the loud, aggressive, (lesbian) Sykes is somehow less of a respectable woman than the reserved, resilient, and appropriately ladylike Michelle Obama. It is to say that Michelle Obama is “good” and Wanda Sykes is “ghetto.”
And that is not funny at all.