So with all the swirling excitement about Iowa, not to mention my having a day job, I missed this awesome story:
Can you imagine how the incident would play out if an African American congressman made a crude remark about First Lady Laura Bush’s body? It certainly would have taken more than an insincere apology to wash that sin away. That scenario never happened — hopefully because those congressmen were raised with a measure of common decency. I know that America’s first family – an image this country presents to the world — is traditionally granted a certain amount of respect across party lines.
Only Wisconsin Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner apparently isn’t bound by such traditions. While I suspect he might be the first to defend the honor and dignity of previous First Ladies, he was recently overheard at Washington’s Reagan National Airport loudly criticizing Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiative: “She lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself.”
His insults quickly disappeared from the headlines after he pledged to send the first lady an apology.
Well, at least he….
Even then, though, he couldn’t resist — through a spokesperson — taking another shot at Michelle Obama’s efforts to get Americans to add more fruits and veggies to their diets and to get moving.
The aide’s note said: “Mr. Sensenbrenner was referring to the First Lady’s healthy food initiative. He doesn’t think the government should be telling Americans what to eat. While he may not agree with all of her initiatives, he plans to contact the First Lady’s office to apologize for his comments.”
Well, isn’t that douchey.
There are many attacks on the Obamas that I find wrongheaded. Take this facile attack on Michelle Obama’s vacation in the exotic foreign nation of Hawai’i, please. But at least I can understand their genesis. It does cost a lot of money for a first family to travel, because, unfortunately, there are wackos that would like to kill them. The alternatives are worse, of course, and the complaints tend to be very partisan, but at least they have some basis in reality.
But the attacks on Michelle Obama’s looks? I don’t get them. At all. If Michelle Obama was fat, Sensenbrenner’s attack would be vicious and wrong. But Michelle Obama is not fat, not by any rational measure. It would be like attacking me for having too much hair — it’s not just wrong, but it’s simply not true.
Can one criticize the First Lady’s focus on ending childhood obesity? Yes, one can — heck, one should. Spending too much time on obesity feeds into the myth that fat qua fat is somehow wrong. I’d much rather the emphasis was on eating healthier and exercising without regard to weight.
But even if you find Obama’s emphasis on obesity to be wrong, it’s hardly Orwellian. She’s gone on the Disney Channel to encourage kids to eat better and exercise more. There hasn’t been a policy component to it. Compared to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign — which dovetailed with the beginning of the War On Drugs — it’s been pretty low-key. Hardly the kind of thing that merits a full-throated attack on Obama’s policy, much less her personal level of fitness.
And that, frankly, is what’s so shocking about the treatment of Michelle Obama. You can criticize her on many things, but she certainly appears to be fit for an almost-48-year-old, and by conventional standards of beauty, she at least rates as attractive. And yet, just as the right attacks her husband for being stupid, they attack Michelle for being ugly and fat.
I don’t think one has to dig too far to find the racism implicit in these attacks. Michelle Obama cannot be attractive because she’s black; black women can’t be attractive. Never mind that she is and they are. If we start admitting that Michelle Obama is pretty and that she and her husband are smart, we might have to start asking why we’ve built up all these racist assumptions about what “attractive” is, and who can be “smart.”
As Mary C. Curtis puts it:
Not only is this disrespect crude, it also proves yet again that you can’t go wrong disrespecting a black woman in the United States of America, even if she lives in the White House – and in some constituencies, especially if she lives in the White House. Sensenbrenner’s nasty rant made me sick and sad because it brings to the surface the ugly history of how black women are viewed in America, stereotyped and dehumanized, our bodies everyone’s business except our own.
What in the world is Sensenbrenner doing staring at the First Lady — not as a person but as a specimen, each part an item on an anatomical checklist? He doesn’t approve of what he’s seeing but he can’t keep his eyes off of her. It’s creepy but unfortunately familiar, the way he devalues black beauty while being mesmerized by it.
Exactly. It’s depressing, and wrong. But it’s all too familiar. The Obamas must be ugly and stupid, because if they aren’t — if they’re actually attractive and smart — it calls into question the comfortable lie that far too many successful white people have told themselves. And we can’t have that.