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.

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  • 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.

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

  • 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!