Tag Archives: Michelle Obama

Classy (Black) Ladies: Why Some People Are Hating on Wanda Sykes

I came across this cartoon while reading the New York Times’ Week in Review this morning.

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

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.



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Filed under African Americans, feminism, race, Uncategorized, women

A Giant Step Back

Watching the coverage of PUMAs at the Democratic National Convention is painful, particularly as I read well-reasoned and thoughtful analysis like Susan Faludi’s New York Times op-ed, knowing full well that she won’t get much of a mention on prime time news or CNN.

I’m not a PUMA—I don’t have that much passion about anyone I don’t know—but I empathize with their helpless expression of rage. I understand why they threaten to vote for John McCain, even though he is the devil’s spawn as far as women’s rights are concerned, failing on several very public occasions to treat his wife with even feigned respect.

I voted for Hillary Clinton. Every single man that I know, all of whom I thought of as progressive, both voted for Barack Obama and expressed a significant contempt for Clinton. Some men I know called my house and tried to bully me into voting for Obama, which was apparently not an anomaly. I read Salon with a grain of reluctance after they published an article by one of their editors who was voting for Obama because he is a progressive black man. Indeed, over the course of the election I came to understand the sentiment that Obama is progressive as expressed by my male counterparts as actually meaning Obama is not a woman.

All of this is shorthand for saying that I feel like the world is topsy-turvy. I felt a particular unity with progressives during these painful Bush years, and that evaporated in the Democratic primary.

Like I said, I was never all worked up about Hillary Clinton, but having settled on her early in the campaign, I saw no particular reason to switch my alliance to Obama. John Edwards’ stance on LGBTs sucked, and Dennis Kucinich was pro-life until relatively recently. Obama was no more progressive than Clinton was, and he was relatively untested, while Clinton was publicly burnished during her years as first lady. I didn’t buy the change rhetoric, any more than Obama supporters bought the experience rhetoric from Clinton.

I made my best pick from a flawed bunch of people. Isn’t that what we do every four years around here?

Ah, but no. All of the sudden, with a woman in the lead, an angel burst onto the scene of American politics.

Faludi suggests that the primary was not just an indication of how much work remains for women’s rights. The primary, she says, was a devastating setback for women’s equality, and equally disappointing because younger women—my peers and younger—joined forces with men and decided that gender was no longer a problem.

I felt ill watching Michelle Obama’s tribute to motherhood and wifehood, the public disowning of her own success, the tacit reassurance that in sending another independent woman, one not solely defined by her role as wife, to the White House, the country would not be inviting another presidential run by a former first lady.

Is this what I am expected to welcome, four years of this as the best case scenario? Am I to welcome a choice between a man who calls his wife a cunt, and another who sacrifices the person he married on the pyre of America’s archaic gender expectations?

Call me a nutso dried-up sexless pantsuit wearer if you’d like, but I’m not happy about this at all.



Filed under election 2008