12.02.2008

Michelle Obama Got Back? An Op-Ed Response to Salon.com and the Chicago Sun-Times


Written by Jesse Muhammad

If you picked up the November 5 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, I am sure you marvelled at the cover photo of the President-elect Barack Obama. This was the same edition that was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show and was one of the most widely sold copies in the country the day after the election. And unofficially voted most popular.

Fast forward 18 days and as you turned the pages or clicked the online links of the November 22 edition, you would find an article written by Los Angeles Times Black columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan about his wife and soon to be first lady, Michelle Obama.

It's not an in-depth look into her qualifications, her motherly qualities or the daunting tasks that lie ahead for her husband and the unique elements she will bring to the White House that are different from or parallels all of the past First Ladies.

But wait, I have to correct myself because Ms. Kaplan did zero in "deeply" on one element that Mrs. Obama will bring into the strategy rooms of the Capitol, the Embassies of the Far East, and the soon to be countless speaking engagements: Her gluteous maximus.

Yes, you read right. That is not a typo.

As I read through Ms. Kaplan's nearly 1200 word article titled "Another first for the first lady: She's got back", I grew increasingly disappointed that a Black woman would even waste her time talking about the shape of Mrs. Obama when there are far more serious things the soon to be First Family is dealing with that can be analyzed.

And for the Chicago Sun-Times to even waste their ink to re-print such an article is perplexing as well to some. The article originally appeared on November 18 on Salon.com, so I felt the need to address this because we can no longer continue to allow certain things to go unanswered.

Ms. Kaplan wrote:

"But what really thrills me, what really feels liberating in a very personal way, is the official new prominence of Michelle Obama. Barack's better half not only has stature but is statuesque. She has corruscating intelligence, beauty, style and -- drumroll, please -- a butt. (Yes, you read that right: I'm going to talk about the first lady's butt.)"

"As I gradually relaxed, as Michelle strode onto more stages and people started focusing on her clothes and presence instead of her patriotism, it dawned on me -- good God, she has a butt! "Obama’s baby (mama) got back," wrote one feminist blogger. "OMG, her butt is humongous!" went a typical comment on one African-American online forum, and while it isn't humongous, per se, it is a solid, round, black, class-A boo-tay. Try as Michelle might to cover it with those Mamie Eisenhower skirts and sheath dresses meant to reassure mainstream voters, the butt would not be denied.
"

In warfare the prize given to or taken by the triumphant army is referred to as the booty or the spoils of war. Before we were brought here to the shores of America to be made into slaves, the Black man look upon his woman as the mother of civilization in a way that transcended "checking her out" or "putting the mack down".

Then the beauty and shapely form of the Black woman mesmerized the White slave master on the plantation so much so that he took her from the Black man to be made his mistress or prey. He would rape her, beat her, abuse her, and even impregnate her to the point of humiliation and the Black man could not do anything about it. That slave girl wasn't focused on her back (form) but was trying to heal whips running down her back. At the same time the slave master was teaching her that she was ugly. Today, in many corporate offices across the country, the Black woman is subjected to dirty jokes from her boss about her body and many even are driven to use their bodies to gain higher positions.

The White man's treatment of our Black woman was copied by the Black man and we became disrespectful of our own mothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and even daughters. We as men started pimping her, abusing her, raping her, molesting her, calling her out of her name, selling her, defaming her and in some cultures suppressing her God-given talents.

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan are the ones who teach Black men to go back to seeing the Black woman as a queen and not a piece of meat. They teach that a nation can rise no higher than it's woman. They teach the Black woman to love how they were created and embrace their Blackness which is not limited to their physical shapes.

Contrary to popular belief, there are some men in this country who watched Mrs. Obama on television and didn't say every time she came on stage or appeared in an interview "Dang, she fine". But yet were focused on how well she articulated the issues that impact our nation. Yes we applauded this strong Black woman backing her husband, being a model mother and an accomplished woman.

But we are not giving a standing ovation for her posterior. That's disrespectful.

Ms. Kaplan then writes:


"Many comparisons have already been made between Michelle and Jackie Kennedy. While I appreciate the spirit, I beg to differ. To put it bluntly, Jackie had no back. Same can be said for gaunt Cindy McCain and the short-lived Republican sexpot Sarah Palin. Jackie was trim and perfect, an inoffensive figure who bucked the curviness of the '50s and put American femininity on the treacherous path of smaller-is-better. "

Ms. Kaplan, do you think Mrs. Obama was making these types of comparisons in her head with Mrs. Laura Bush when she visited the White House ? When our children read the history books, will writers compare the physical forms of the First Ladies or their impact on national and world affairs?

Ms. Kaplan, please ponder this. If you walked into an elementary school to speak and one of the young boys said to you "Excuse me maam, I just wanted to say you are fine and got a big booty", how would you respond? Would you say "Thank you"?

The other day I met a Black waitress at one of my favorite restaurants in Houston who goes by the name "T". She's 34 years old and told me she voted for the first time in her life this year because she was moved by what she saw and heard in Mr. Obama and his wife.

I mentioned to her the contents of Ms. Kaplan's article and she immediately replied "What does her body have to do with her being a top First Lady? I can't believe that writer would even stoop so low when Mrs. Obama is giving young Black girls in the 'hood hope that we too can be classy and attain greatness without selling our bodies or exposing them. Focus on her brilliance not her body. We've had enough of that disrespect."

Ms. Kaplan also says that "It turns out that Sir Mix-A-Lot, he of "Baby Got Back" fame, was not a novelty but a prophet. Who knew? Give that guy a Cabinet post."

Only in your administration.