Tami Winfrey Harris has an important response to the sighs heard ’round the white feminist blogosphere when Michelle Obama noted in her convention speech that her most important role is “mom-in-chief.” Tami notes that in our eagerness to make Obama “emblematic of modern woman, some mainstream feminists unwittingly erase a key part of her identity–her blackness.”
After all, the devoted mom is not one the sexist stereotypes typically applied to black women–who’ve historically rarely even had the privilege to choose motherhood over career.
While white women have historically been thought, by default, to be possessed of ideal femininity, (sexistly) defined as demure, sacrificing, quietly strong, beautiful and maternal. Black women have not. The picture of black woman as Sapphire; welfare queen; baby mama; ball-buster; unmarriageable harpy who is too black, too fat and too nappy can be seen lurking behind much of the right’s–and some of the left’s–criticism of Michelle Obama. (Not only that, but Sapphire qualities are already being thrust upon the Obama’s youngest daughter, Sasha, who the media is fond of imbuing with a sort of two-snaps-up-in-a-circle sassiness.)
Black women in the public eye, including Michelle Obama, may not see the need to distance themselves from traditional roles, as Hillary Clinton once did, famously saying, “I am not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man.” and “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” Cooking-baking, devoted wife and mother has never been a stereotype about us.
Go read the rest. As Tami notes, it really is a testament to what a powerful public figure Michelle Obama is that so many women–of all races–want to identify with her. But we can’t forget “that all women are not burdened by the same stereotypes.”