Showing Up For Michelle Obama

by Kirsten West Savali

Michelle-Obama-European-Outfits-2013When I read Michelle Cottle’s article for Politico Magazine, Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama became a feminist nightmare, I had several thoughts, and subsequently, several angles from which they could be expressed:

1.) Discuss the problematic irony in expecting feminism to manifest from an inherently patriarchal, antiquated and heteronormative role such as “First Lady.”

2.) Point out that to challenge this White Supremacist Capitalist empire that we call America in a bold, intersectional way would be a direct challenge to the office of President of the United States —currently held by her husband.

3.) Defend the First Lady’s choices, call out Cottle’s myopic perspective and make note of the differences between White feminism and Black feminism.

I ended up sharing my thoughts on all three points, but what I didn’t make clear – and I absolutely should have – is that Cottle’s article is one of the most racist, cowardly examples of White feminism in recent memory.

Blame it on my exhaustion with the many ways in which White feminism often mimics the patriarchy that it claims to want to dismantle. Blame it on my unshakable belief that First Lady Michelle Obama’s exemplary performance as First Lady cannot, by any reasonably sane person, be called into question, and to even entertain the notion would be to validate Cottle’s ignorance. Blame it on the fact that Cottle’s title was clearly crafted as click-bait and I, in a temporary lapse into apathy and cynicism, chose to only engage in the portions that weren’t blatantly intended to troll Black feminists.

Blame it on whatever you like, but to not clearly address the racism in Cottle’s article was a flawed decision that I humbly own.

When White feminists didn’t show up for Quvenzhane Wallis, I called it out — here’s looking at you Sandra Fluke. When I was grappling with my own definition of feminism, I wrote right here on Clutch: “I realized that feminism in the Black community has very different textures than it does in the White community, and that, I, as a Black woman, do not have the luxury of shrugging off my ethnicity.  Equality, not just for women, but for Black and Brown people around the globe must be achieved; it is a critical war that must be fought parallel to eradicating the dehumanizing subjugation and violence that plague all women — and that fact can neither be diminished nor ignored.”

The lines in the sand are clear. And when a Black woman, mother and community activist — and make no mistake, Michelle Obama is all three — is under attack by a White feminist, it is always more important to focus with razor-sharp precision on that very specific attack, rather than on a polite exchange about the mainstream definition of feminism.

It is always more important to show up.

White feminists, you who have been protected, and coddled (the irony is noted, Cottle), and revered in this country, do not get to define feminism on your terms and expect women of color to fall in line with your selfish agenda. You do not get to remain silent on our sons being murdered, and our daughters being murdered, and our consistent and disproportionate victimization at the hands of men — yes, even yours — then tell us we should focus our attention more on a country that still treats us as 3/5ths human rather than on our own children.

And you, Michelle Cottle, do not get to pretend that by including a token Black feminist in your article that it absolves you of racism. It didn’t work with George Zimmerman’s one Black friend; it doesn’t work when Bill O’Reilley trots out Juan Williams; it doesn’t work for GOP Black Chick; and it doesn’t work for you.

It is an obvious, pathetic ploy that bigots use to disguise their animosity; as if putting a Black face on White bullshit bippity bobbity boos it into sugar.

Editor’s Note: It doesn’t.

In the Audacity of Hope, then Senator Barack Obama explained the complex intersectionality of Black feminism in a powerful way when discussing the early years of their marriage:

 It wasn’t the constant scrambling between work and the children that made Michelle’s situation so tough. It was also the fact that from her perspective she wasn’t doing either job well. That was not true, of course; her employers loved her and everyone remarked on what a good mother she was. But I came to see that in her own mind, two versions of herself were at war with each other—the desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids; and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world and realize all those plans she’d had on the very first day that we’d met.

That’s my feminism.

Black feminists have always had to fight for our families and entire communities, while White women have only been locked in a power struggle with White men; and they have done this oblivious to the plight of their Black and Brown sisters. They have pretended that expanding privilege for them means equality for us, but we know better.

In my feminism, we understand that raising intelligent, confident Black children in a loving family is one of the most revolutionary acts a Black woman can commit in America.

We understand that Cottle was not engaged in an intellectual or feminist pursuit with that article; she was attempting to shame the First Lady of the United States by diminishing her value, challenging her usefulness and questioning her relevance. We understand that a healthy, educated Black America is an empowered Black America and that Michelle Obama has done more for Black feminism and womanism in 6 years than White feminists have done in…ever. We also understand that that fact is a threat to the positions of privilege that White feminists have occupied for so long and that Cottle’s article is an extension of that obvious insecurity.

We understand these things; so Ms. Cottle needs to understand this:

Dear, Ms. Cottle: If the feminist credentials of those of us who are Black mothers and wives is dependent upon your tepid approval, if focusing on two of the most pivotal issues in Black America means that Michelle Obama is not feminist enough for you, then f*ck your feminism.

My only regret is that I didn’t say that sooner.

Follow Kirsten West Savali on Twitter at @KWestSavali.

  • Annoyed

    Scratch an Obama hating white femnist below the surface and you will find a whte woman who still can’t believe Hillary lost the presidency. Hillary Clinton is a foreign policy hawk who would have had troops on the ground all over the Middle East. She also opposed the Oresident’s decision to retrieve bin Laden. This is heresy I know but her failed public response to Benghazi will make it impossible for me to support her. She let Susan Rice take the heat because she refused to make the Sunday morning talk show circuit. Furhermore, Hiillary wouldn’t answer debate questions about Bill’s advocacy for NAFTA, which played a major role in killing the middle class along with his China deal. Back on topic, this Cottle woman can pound sand for eternity for all I care.

  • Tsaun

    Well written piece and I couldn’t agree more!!

  • blogdiz

    Bravo !! Excellent Piece there is nothing I can an add

  • Annoyed

    Also, it is a slap in the face of our communitty for so-called femnists to reduce Mrs. Obama’s advocacy against childhood obesity to “gardening.” Kelli Goff should be ashamed of herself. Childhood obesity is a critical health issue that affects millions of kids, especially in the black community.

  • Kelley Johnson

    This, this, and this. I never once entertained voting for that old bitter hag in 08 and she won’t get my vote in 2016 either. And I think these white women are in for another rude awakening. Black women run the democratic party. And as long as they keep showing their asses, I’m sure more and more black women will become as anti-Hillary as I am.

    And Michelle Obama is a treasure and the definition of the greatness of black womanhood. And these “feminist” organizations haven’t said a damn word to support her or defend her when she’s under constant attack. Yet these same women have no problem coming to the defense of Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter. It’s ridiculous.

    What I wanna know is, when are black women gonna wake up and completely and fully adopt womanism and stop worrying about being a “feminist”. It’s not for us! It never has been. Black women and other women of color do all the hard work and yet women’s issues in this country continue to be politically framed around white women because they are the ones who get the seat at the table. Look at the recent elections. Black women won Democrats the governor’s mansion and the state house in Virginia, and all the headlines the next day contributed the win to white women. Even though the majority of white women voted republican. And yet, when it’s time for that governor to sit down with women’s organizations, there won’t be a black woman leader in the room.

    We need to let go of these white women and their feminism. They do not care about us and it’s not our job to teach these females how to be human and look beyond their race. Black women need our OWN organizations that rally for us.

  • blogdiz

    So True and also interesting to note that vitriol white feminists seem to have reserved for Michele Obama was noticeable absent for the most passive do nothing FLOTUS Laura Bush

  • vintage3000

    Ditto, very well written piece and thanks for putting your rebuttal out into the blogoshpere.

    I refuse to click on that link, but we all know that if First Lady Michelle was caucasian, this same white woman would be glowing with praise about how she has positively redefined the role of First Lady for generations to come. Not only can they not place her in a box that makes them warm & fuzzy, they can’t figure out why Mrs. Obama continues to slay folks with her charm and intelligence. When I visualize these women (including the ones who let zimmerman walk with a “i think Georgie has a good heart”) I see black and white photos of white housewives cursing and spitting on Black schoolchildren, or the ones holding the hands of their men while smiling in the crowds of lynching photos. They have not evolved, they just learned to spew their venom differently.

  • geenababe

    I can’t believe someone actually wrote in article like that without a thought. You would think Michelle Obama would be a great example of a feminist.

  • SayWhat

    I refuse to click on the article and give that chick anymore hits. I will simply say THANK YOU for writing this piece.
    I find it sad (but NOT surprising) that Michelle Obama’s biggest critics are white women. While I’m sure Hillary will win if she runs, she won’t do it with my help. I’m sick of the backstabbing.

  • great piece

    #POW. Is this gonna be posted Jezebel? The tears!

  • JD

    Thank you for this. I am so tired of seeing white feminists go after Mrs.Obama time and time again. Calling herself “mom-in-chief” distresses them? Well, who was looking after their children and cooking their meals? Black women. So they can miss me with that nonsense.

    Gardening isn’t important? Well my mother does it as did my grandmother and great-grandmother to grow healthy food for their families. Let’s Move, and Mrs. Obama’s work with the troops – all that is meaningless?

    I thought the idea of feminism was that women would be free to choose their own paths. Yet, Mrs. Obama (and other WOC) don’t seem to get that same consideration. The white male patriarchy is just the flip side of the white female matriarchy – two sides, same coin.

  • Candice

    I’m over white feminist in general and have been for a while. They don’t care about us and I don’t care about them. As a matter of fact I won’t let any woman that isn’t me define how I should be as a women.

  • MimiLuvs

    I hope that Michelle Cottle does read Kristen’s article. If so, I will be expecting for Miss Cottle to write a short response in which she back-tracks and fumbles over her choice of words. Then she will ask Kristen to engage in a conversation with her about feminism and intersectionality.

  • Dalili

    Yes!! Well said!!

  • Raya


  • MommieDearest


    I can’t with these white women throwing shade at Michelle Obama and hiding behind feminism.

    They just refuse to deal with the FACT that a black woman is the First Lady and she is doing a marvelous job. She is the very definition of class and she keeps it classy by rising above all the bullsiht that comes her way. It gets under their skin and eats away at their hearts. Too bad. They can kiss where the sun don’t shine.

    *flips hair, walks away*

  • Kam

    The thing is, Black women have been trying to tell White feminists this ever since Michelle Obama became the first lady. They refuse to listen and see it from our point of you. You would think Black women were speaking a different language.

    It’s no wonder they’re upset. They can’t see Michelle Obama as their Black Best Friend there to do all the things that make them feel better about themselves. Of course how Black women see Michelle Obama doesn’t matter because we’re not really women to them.

  • Kam

    Correction: *point of view

  • Eduardo

    Racism in feminism is well documented (the history of voting rights for African-American women is a particularly ugly chapter in feminism). Hopefully more people will read your article.

  • K8fontain

    Laura Bush was a registered Democrat and degreed professional until she marries G.W., at which point she becomes a Republican housewife, and MICHELLE OBAMA is a feminist nightmare?? Time for Ms. Cottle to take her stadium full of seats.

  • binks

    Basically! The majority believed that solidarity is strictly for them and damn with every other woman and their experience. This may be a pretty broad stroke to paint with but in general white women has NEVER been our ally and most likely never will be. So their view of black womanhood and the black woman’s experience here and aboard is irrelevant to me because most try to deflect and change the narrative back to them and their issues. That is why I simply can’t and won’t label myself feminism; I think black women need our own definitive name and moment revolving around us and for us!

  • Ads

    Love everything written here – perfectly stated.

  • Marketing Gimmicks

    Chile…white women are salty that they cannot sleep with Michelle’s husband period. Especially that dim witted Sarah Palin.

    They’re so enviably mad that the leader of the free world puts his black, beautiful, sexy as he’ll, and accomplished wife on a pedestal and that it isn’t them!

    I swear WW are so wacksauce to me cause theyre all image.

    They ain’t fooling nobody with their empty superficial feminist rhetoric. Ain’t nobody got time for that!!!!

    I just know Barrack and Michelle have put in work on their four poster bed in THE WHITE HOUSE cause it’s like that!

  • vintage3000

    ITA–I had no idea about those details about Mrs. Bush. Can you imagine if Michelle Obama had a scandal in her history where she was involved in the death of a man during an accident. They would call her a serial killer, and she would have never seen the inside of the White House. But Laura Bush, oh that’s ok it was in the past.. The hypocrisy is incredible and they are too cowardly and diseased to admit where it comes from, even to themselves.

  • SMH

    Daaaaamn Riiight!!!

  • Kelley Johnson

    And in the end, that’s what it all comes down to. Besides the typical jealousy WW feel when they see a black woman like Michelle who’s at the top of her game, they also feel like one of them should be with Barack. And that is why they are extra bitter towards Michelle. She’s got everything going on for her (education, career, looks, family), plus a dream man who openly adores her and who also happens to be the leader of the free world. They simply cannot take it.

  • Val

    I’ve unliked Jezebel on FB and followed everything MO is involved in. #standingwithmichelle

  • MommieDearest

    Basically. They hate her but want to BE her at the same time.

  • Sepiastar

    Bravo, you eloquently captured my EXACT sentiments! Where are the “Michelle Cottles” of the movement when the FLOTUS was viciously denigrated by white male and female Republicans and conservative radio pundits. Yet, she’s a nightmare for feminism?? Where is the “feminist rally cry” when Black women and other women of color are degraded, demeaned, and disrespected in all forms of media and when do they EVER champion a “cause” for advocacy that’s significant to someone besides themselves. Feminism, yeah right, WHITE FEMINISM is the ONLY principle and beliefs they support!

  • SoPrissy

    The main problem I have with White feminists is that they refuse to acknowledge that while we are all women Black women have a different struggle due to our race. Black women have always worked. We took care of their households, children, and were the victims of their husbands’ sexual abuse. Where were they at? What were they doing? NOTHING! They complained about not being able to work while black women took care of our households & theirs. Mrs. Obama is a highly educated, accomplished, and polished black woman. When President Obama took office, I was in college and they have served as inspirations to me and many of my girlfriends. Black women have worked, worked, worked, worked, if some of us CHOOSE to be stay-at-home moms, take care of our home, and support our husbands then that’s our CHOICE. It doesn’t mean that we do not believe in feminism. Every man and woman I know wants their daughters to have equal pay for equal work. Every man I know wants his significant other to make top dollar incomes that are the same as their male counterpoints. Just because she isn’t doing what White feminists wants, Michelle is somehow an embarrassment? GTFOH with that! Just because White feminists resented having to stay at home to take care of their families doesn’t mean Black women can’t make that choice for themselves.

  • Anthony

    Michele Cottle does make a decent effort to take racial issues into consideration when discussing The First Lady, but she is not modest enough to say that as a white woman, “I cannot really understand what Ms. Obama is going through.”

    Cottle even mentions how much Hillary was hated when she was active in policy. Everyone knows that Michele Obama would have been attacked 1000x worse than Hillary ever was. The truth is that First Ladies are not elected, their husbands are. It makes sense not to place a First Lady in a formal policy position. If Hillary, or better yet, Elizabeth Warren is elected, it will be time for an actual female president to take the power for herself, and not on behalf of her husband.

    As for Michele Obama’s agenda, childhood obesity and good nutrition are major issues in a society full of fast food, and working parents. Working with soldiers’ families made sense for humanizing the first family and showing support for the country’s all volunteer military.

    As many have already said, Black Women working outside of the home is nothing new, and in fact, has been an economic necessity for either survival or achieving middle class status. I think there are very few of my sisters who would have a problem with putting their careers on the back burner for a husband who has a legitimate chance to be a US Senator (remember with Corey Booker’s election, only four African Americans have ever been elected to the US Senate.) I suspect that would go double or triple for a husband who has a chance to be the POTUS.

    What so many white women refuse to understand is that a black woman with the option of staying home is progress for African Americans. My Mother and my Aunts worked because they had too although they did enjoy their careers. At this time of the year, I often think of them, and just how proud they would have been of Michele Obama and her husband.

  • Brenande Mossita (@DaBossMossmb)

    I do have to give it up for the people who comment on Politico, they tore into this womans butt.

  • Brenande Mossita

    I love the comments section from the Politico article, those people called out white feminist and racism. They also attacked Politico for letting Cottle write such an article!

  • Tyler

    Why is it racist when white Michelle Cottle talks about how other feminists feel about the first lady but it’s not racist when black Keli Goff is one of those feminists in the article actually criticizing the first lady? Why is an argument made by a white person racist but that exact argument made by a black person is an opinion? The author of this blog post (Kirsten West Savali) constantly creates double standards and reads way too much into things, always cherry picking any little thing to make white people look racist. She is an overly sensitive person that needs to realize white people are not all out to get her and her race.

  • Tyler

    White feminists were glad that Laura Bush wasn’t involved because they were against the Bush administration. Why would they want her to promote anti-minority Bush administration policy? Your comment makes no sense.

  • Dee

    Tyler, it would be interesting and eye opening to read of an opinion expressed by a white feminist that showed some empathy with and understanding of the choices made by the First Lady. I’m a Black Briton, and even over here in Britain, the silence in terms of a distinct lack of support for Michelle Obama from these women could perhaps best be descibed as a “noisy quiet”. Why are these women so vocal in their condemnation, yet so close mouthed in showing the merest signs of sisterly support for Michelle….?!

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