Friday, December 10, 2010

Kathy Griffin, Bristol Palin and The White Precious

Kathy Griffin is a comedian who routinely gets it wrong.  She is nothing more than an offensive shock jock, whose 15 minutes of fame, should have been over a long time ago.

At VH1's Divas Salute the Troops, Griffin thought it would be funny to announce that Bristol had gained so much weight on Dancing With The Stars, that she had become the """White Precious"


Predictably, the crowd booedMany blogs have called Griffin out on her obvious fat phobia, as well as the lengths that she has personally undergone to achieve and maintain an idealized female form. What most people do not comment on however, is the obvious race and class disparity that this joke ignores. The character Precious, was a poor Black woman, who survived rape by her father as well as sexual, physical and emotional abuse by her mother.  At the start of the story, she felt invisible and powerless.   The novel Push, on which the movie was based, was essentially an updated version of The Color Purple and was strictly an African American story.

Even as a joke, how are Bristol Pain and Precious, or more specifically the story of a poor urban Black girl related?  A person like Precious, would never be given the opportunity to dance on television the way that Bristol did and in fact this was something she was pictured doing repeatedly throughout the movie.  She would be ignored and invisible in our society and totally lacking in power.  Even as young teenage mothers, Bristol and Precious would not be able to relate to each other.  Bristol chose to participate in sex though she now swills the abstinence nonsense and Precious was raped REPEATEDLY. 


What Griffin did was much more complicated than attack Bristol Palin, or even engage in obvious fat hatred, she implied that poor Black single mothers have little significance and that the issues they face should not be taken seriously. If women like Precious (and yes, they do exist) are akin to Bristol Palin (a white woman of class privilege with dubious intelligence), then the issues they face are not about a history of systemic racism, and classism, but about a failure to perform femininity in a manner that is socially acceptable.  Gender is historically a site of oppression, but for many women, it does not amount to their sole social stigmatization. The character Precious was not devalued simply because she was a fat single mother, but because she was poor and a dark skinned Black woman. No matter what issues Bristol will face in the future, she will never know the everyday life of all of the real Precious' who we ignore and oppress.


The single narrative to explain women's lives, is problematic because it is exclusionary. Though this so-called joke came from a White woman, it's Griffins race and class privilege that prevents her from seeing the way that her commentary upheld her various privileges. Palin may at first seem like the point of the joke, but really, the people most hurt are the real live Precious' who are simply trying to subsist in a hostile environment. Yes, that joke was fat phobic, but I cannot help but wonder if those speaking out realized that they were re-victimizing an already marginalized group of women by ignoring the way in which Griffin's speech directly attacked  the Precious' of the this world.