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.

11 comments:

  1. I appreciate your blog on this article however I have two points of contention:
    First, The Chicago Sun-Times is far from being a "black" paper....they are very liberal but to go so far as to call it black press is a stretch~ Having lived a good portion of my literate life in Chicago I have read many things in that paper that remind me of just how Not "black" that paper is.
    And finally an article written about the Future First lady's behind is clearly offensive on GP. But I believe the impetus and spirit of this article was celebratory~ Black women get degraded and derided often because of our curves. The heart of the article this misguided sister wrote was simply an attempt to connect with an audience and celebrate our sister and her curves~
    I for one am glad that the First Black President has a black wife with a brown complexion and curves..not a fair skin waif~ being a fair skin waif myself I feel that our image is often the one sent out as beauty for black women in the mainstream.

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  2. @ Candyce Thank you for reading it and sharing your thoughts. It is greatly appreciated.

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  3. Although I agree as a Black woman that the writer was aiming to celebrate the Black woman's rise but I have to disagree with the manner in which she wrote it.

    Why put Michelle's form on front street as if it's a White House trophy or victory for us as Black women?

    I for one am a professional and accomplished woman myself (with hips I may add) but I wouldn't appreciate it if a newspaper did a profile on me about how I made a breakthrough in corporate America with my mind along with analyzing my shape. That's irrelevant.

    I thank Brother Jesse for writing this piece.

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  4. @ Barbara I agree that First Lady Obama has outstanding credentials of her own...she has a more impressive resume than that of Senator Clinton and could have run for office on her own merit.....Those facts are certainly to be noted and respected. She is an awesome professional woman who is an example of how to achieve excellence in without excuse or exception.
    But I have to return to the fact that our Elected officials and their spouses become Pop culture and Media fodder...they fuel our entertainment industry and as Brother Jesse stated the article was in a lifestyle piece that the Chicago Sun-Times in their usual lazy ineptitude picked up from L.A.... Lifestyle pieces are trivial and not meant to focus on the heavy and weighty issues...They are supposed to talk about her lovely hair and fabulous curves...If this piece were receiving cover story Newsweek attention that would be different. But we as a people have to lose some of this sensitivity to physical critique. First Lady Obama's hair, teeth, nails, and the like will all be up for public discussion much as Hilary Clinton's were in those "pantsuits" she wore and Helmut haircuts...I am not saying that the histrionics are not in play here. Black women’s sexuality being taken and currently exploited all over VH1 and the like…but I would not liken a columnist’s piece on how great it is that our next First Lady has curves and is a healthy representation to young women of color to the trash that is continually exploiting us. If we are going to get angry and have discussion about some inappropriate stuff let’s talk about VH1 and BET’s programming, not even to mention music videos and the movies that are coming out. Let’s talk about how black women are portrayed in the media for real~ not this kind of fluff. It will be very interesting to see how Tabloids cover this First family…treading very lightly on our cultural sensitivities about our hair and curves…Next it will be about Sasha and Malia wearing their hair in braids or something.

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  5. Barbara WashingtonDecember 3, 2008 at 3:46 PM

    @Candyce

    You made some very good points sister and these types of dialogues are good for thought.

    Thank you much

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  6. I honestly didn't see the big deal when I read the article at first and I kinda just blew it off...but after reading Brother Jesse's blog I got a different angle on it. And Candyce made some good points too.

    We have freedom of speech so I can respect both sides even the writer because she has a right to express herself however she wants to...plus she takes advantage of the platforms given to her (i.e. LA Times, etc) which is something many of us with intellectual opinions don't do enough of.

    Overall I enjoyed op-ed Brother Jesse!...by the way you have my vote as the Blog of the Year!

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  7. Well Bro. Jesse, I think we as brothers will agree that Mrs. Obama is a physically attractive woman hands down and there WERE a lot of men like myself who kept checking her out every time I saw her on TV. Her walk, clothes, hair do, smile....I'm not going to lie but that didn't take away from or add to my political view or vote. (I voted for the Green Party by the way)

    The Sun-Times is far from representing Black people but even if a paper is calling themselves "Black-owned" today, that doesn't mean that they are not truly owned by the same White man you are talking about.

    That's why I read the Final Call because I know it's 100 percent Black.

    Keep up the good work Brother Jesse! We need more writers like you and Bro. Ashahed. You all go hard on good issues.

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  8. @Candyce

    I for one agree with your views. I think Brother Jesse wrote an excellent piece but may have went a little overboard because that article really isn't as threatening or offensive as the New Yorker cover but I can understand where Brother Jesse is coming from in terms of the history of how the Black woman has been and still is treated. HE IS 100 PERCENT CORRECT ON THAT!

    But we can all agree to disagree. I think the real question will be is, how many true Black owned newspapers and outlets will the Obama's be "allowed" to interview with? Where is the one-on-one with the Final Call which I believe is the greatest Black-owned media outlet in the world.

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  9. I think it needed to be address at least regardless of what paper it was in because I felt it was disrespectful. However I do agree that this was written in a way to appease people rather than educate them.

    Love your blog Brother Jesse! You rock!

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  10. This is why we must have independent media so we can address misguided self hating articles like what the sister wrote. Yes it's freedom of speech and it's the lifestlye section but when has any other first lady's form ever been discussed let alone her backside? Everyone should google Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman to see the histroy of this "fascination". Great work Brother Jesse keep the heat on these house negroes

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  11. I thank Brother Jesse for addressing this. Her behind has nothing to do with her greatness!

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