Monday, December 01, 2008

On Michelle Obama and Stereotypes

In response to CNN's report "Michelle Obama breaks stereotypes"

CNN's Randi Kaye examines how Michelle Obama may help break down stereotypes of black women.

I’ve seen this segment aired on CNN at least three times and each time it’s made me more and more uncomfortable. Why? Because it’s just plain silly to suggest that Michelle Obama can single-handedly eradicate stereotypes about African-American women. By definition, stereotypes are images or ideas about a group of people that have become fixed by repetition or acceptance, to the point of cliché. If there are stereotypes about Black women being overweight, ignorant or angry, they exist because we have been inundated with those unflattering images over the course of decades and generations.

While I am genuinely excited about what Michelle will bring to the White House, I think we’re doing a disservice not only to the first family, but to our already derelict discourse on race and racism to suggest that one woman’s weight, skin-tone and parenting abilities could possibly reverse a stereotype that was built over several successive decades of white supremacist attitudes about black women being transmitted through every possible mouthpiece from music videos to US public policy.

To avoid yoking our next First Lady with unrealistic expectations, we’re going to have to give serious consideration to her context. What Michelle Obama’s visibility can offer is a counterpoint to the hundreds of negative images of Black women that are circulated daily amongst Americans. So, for the hundreds of mammies, hoes, bitches, Jezebels, welfare mothers, ghetto queens, baby’s mamas and chickenheads that exist in the songs, movies, news reports and anecdotes that comprise our national imagination, there is now one Michelle Obama. She’s powerful, she’s accomplished, she’s fortunate and she’s ambitious, but she’s just one woman, folks. And, to be clear, it’s going to take a lot more than one First Lady to transform or dismantle the caricatured image of black women that’s been crafted by the racist and misogynist attitudes of our white supremacist society.


Blogger Jamar Herrod said...

I can't agree with you more Larry. How can we rely soley on Michelle Obama to break the stereotypes of black women? Michelle is not the only accomplished black women who is married with children who we should consider. Look at Jada Pinkett and Will Smith. There should not be an assumption that many people don't see themselves as beautiful because they have a darker skin tone. I know CNN mentioned Michelle Obama's skin color is darker than other well-known celebrities and this should build confidence in black women that BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL??? That is really sad to insinuate that Michelle Obama's skin pegmentation is NOW a defining moment for blacks to say they look good. *Shaking my head profusely* EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL IN THEIR OWN WAY. However, I contend that there should be more positive aspects of African-American women and there have been such as Queen Latifah, Oprah, and others. There needs to be respect and understanding of black women in general.

12:52 PM  
Blogger bLaQ~n~MiLD said...

Very well put Mr. Lyons.


1:06 PM  
Blogger John K said...

Yes she can--no, but seriously, you are so right. That the media feel the need to keep making this argument indicts them and not black women, but then we know this. Stay brilliant, as always!

5:20 PM  
Blogger diana said...

you tell em larry!! beautifully put. can u submit this to nytimes op-ed?

5:43 PM  
Blogger Mr. Jones said...

I'm with you. In the end, I have to admit I hope that because Barck and Michelle...err, excuse me...President Obama and the First Lady in such prominent positions will help ignorant ass folks realize that the professional (read: normal and non-niggerish) black men and women working in their offices aren't aberrations.

One can only hope.

10:57 AM  

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