When 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.