Quick Hit: Why a black “mom-in-chief” is revolutionary

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.”

and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

2 Comments

  1. Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    The crucial mistake I believe Tami Winfrey Harris makes is to premise her criticism of white feminists on a false choice. Michelle Obama had more choices that between presenting herself as a the traditional, dutiful, devoted mom (stereotype of white women to which black women are supposed to aspire?) or the welfare queen stereotype.

    The alternative I, and I imagine the white feminists to whom she refers, wished to see was an intelligent, progressive, successful individual. Yes, she’s a woman, and black, and a wife, and a mother, but why should those identities define her?

    A speech portraying Michelle Obama in such a light would have constituted a far more meaningful challenge to (intersectional) bias, allowing her to be an impressive person rather than an imitation of last century’s white female stereotypes.

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      Michelle Obama had more choices that between presenting herself as a the traditional, dutiful, devoted mom (stereotype of white women to which black women are supposed to aspire?) or the welfare queen stereotype.

      Michelle Obama wasn’t just saying “I am a mother and I’m proud.” She was saying “I’m a Black mother, and I’m proud.” Remember Zurana Horton, the Black mother of 13 who threw herself in front of a group of children to shield them from gunfire? The consensus wasn’t that she was a brave woman, it was how “the rest of us” will be paying for her kids welfare for the rest of their lives.

      As a wise Black woman once said:

      “The only time black pregnancies were deemed valuable was during slavery, when pregnancy would serve to enrich the planter class. Today, the black womb symbolizes surplus population and a fear of reversing racial demographics.” ~ Source.

      The alternative I, and I imagine the white feminists to whom she refers, wished to see was an intelligent, progressive, successful individual. Yes, she’s a woman, and black, and a wife, and a mother, but why should those identities define her?

      What makes you think that “intelligent, progressive, successful” is exclusive from “a woman, and black, and a wife, and a mother”?

Feministing In Your Inbox

Sign up for our Newsletter to stay in touch with Feministing
and receive regular updates and exclusive content.

166 queries. 0.281 seconds