Oh, no she didn’t!
9th December 2013 · 0 Comments
By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
Growing up, I was taught that the best response to most insults was to ignore them – leave them unaddressed – as unworthy of further consideration. After all, we were taught that “Sticks and stones might break our bones, but talk wouldn’t bother us.” I realize now that my mother, who taught me this lesson, had the greater purpose of reducing conflict in my life, as well as eliminating the potential that I would, to my own hardship, breech the social norms of the times.
More practically, as an adult, I’ve learned that some insults cannot be left unchallenged. The damage that they render is far too costly to allow, and their potential to misshape a larger public perception or to create a distorted influence is too great. Such is the critique of First Lady Michelle Obama as a “feminist nightmare” by the Politico writer Michelle Cottle.
Although Cottle’s comments have been refuted by numerous individuals who are more in-tune than Cottle is with the cultural imperatives that shape our First Lady’s perspectives, Cottle’s comments deserve, at least, one more castigation. I’m sufficiently incensed to be the one to do it.
For those who missed Cottle’s column, as I interpret it, her comments criticize the First Lady for disengagement from real and vital feminist issues. Cottle seemingly trivializes my First Lady’s signature issues of a focus on commitment to personal health and fitness, of a commitment to strengthening families and children, and of increasing access and attendance to college by lower income students. She describes Mrs. Obama using demeaning terminology suggesting a lack of courage, a greater willingness to play it safe than to address substantive feminist issues, and of assuming a more politically expedient role than breaking through “the conventional First Lady mold.”
Cottle was even critical of Mrs. Obama’s stated position of assuming her role as mother to Malia and Sasha as her primary focus. As already addressed in rebuttals to Cottle, Cottle may wish to reexamine her critique of the First Lady through the lens of “Black Feminism.”
Unlike many white feminists, Black feminists do not have the luxury of defining their positions in subjective “either – or” terms. As we always have, Black feminists have had to concern ourselves with removing barriers and obstacles to personal achievement while fighting the overt and covert violence directed at our community. While striving for equity in the workplace and fair pay on payday, we Black feminists have had to struggle to overcome the challenge of feeding a family with resources diminished by an economy floundering under the barbaric principles of Ayn Rand and the oligarchy of corporate elitists. We’ve had to deal with gender disparities, while watching the opportunities for both females and males in our community lessened proportionate to decreasing educational and training opportunities to students.
Even among the community’s poorest residents, the correlation between successful social elevation and good parenting – especially good mothering – is clear. While she can be a devoted feminist, few Black mothers will prioritize anything over our children. When circumstances allow, even Black feminists will subordinate personal interests to those of our children. We clearly understand the immediate impact of our actions on our children AND the long-term strengthening effect of our actions upon our community.
Unlike many white feminists, who view the world from a position of comfort, Black feminists and those who come from backgrounds of lower incomes and greater social liabilities cannot reject the fundamental survival issues of our communities to the exclusion of issues approved by “the feminist mindset.” Nor should my First Lady have to suffer the castigation and criticism of fellow-travelers who have little or no conceptual understanding of the facts of life that shape her perspective.
This article originally published in the December 9, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.