photo © 2009 David Shankbone | more info (via: Wylio)
Michelle Obama has been attacked from the moment Barack decided to run for president. Racists have constructed her as the quintessential angry Black woman, and some have gone as far to question her weight, refer to her as mannish, and to suggest that she is ugly. Michelle is none of these things, and these characterizations have everything to do with the sexist racist stereotypes that have been encoded to the Black female body by Whiteness to justify the oppression of Black women.
Though Michelle lives with great privilege in terms of class, sexuality, ability etc., these combined privileges, are not always enough, as we have seen, to nullify her two obvious sites of oppression - race and gender. Tracy Morgan recently appeared on The George Lopez Show, and his commentary about Michelle left a lot to be desired.
Morgan: I went to the correspondents dinner last summer and I was like - it was crazy man
Lopez: Did you perform?
Morgan: No come on, in front of Barrack? I would have killed myself if he would have booed me. I looked at Michelle and she say, "hi Tracy," and I just like, I got hard you know.
Lopez: That's your type?
Morgan: Yes ooooh, come on man; she's a beast. Michelle look like a tall mountain and I want to climb it just 'cause it's there - just cause it's there. Kilimanjaro
Throughout this entire exchange the audience, Lopez, and Morgan, were laughing as though his commentary was hilarious. Michelle Obama is an extremely accomplished woman, and in fact, while her president husband graduated magna cum laude, she graduated suma cum laude. I also think that it is important to note that this is the first time in their marriage that Barrack has made more money than her. Barrack would never have been able to be a community organizer without Michelle's support. In fact, while he was out organizing, Michelle was not only bringing home the bacon and frying it, was functioning as a single mother because Barack was often absent from the home.
Reducing Michelle to a sexual object is unequivocally sexist, and yet this was so easily done for a cheap laugh. We have a tendency to excuse the perpetuation of many isms when they are situated as a joke, as though they do not represent a deep seated obsession with the marginalization of specific bodies. Simply because it was a Black man telling the joke, does not erase the sexist over tones of his speech. If Morgan is indeed infatuated with Michelle, there are plenty of ways that he could have stated this, without reducing her person. Unlike men, when women are in a position of power, they are easily reduced by sexism.
Referring to Michelle as a "beast," only heightens the disembodiment of her being. It calls up images of wanton whores, which is exactly how Black female sexuality has been debased. A Black woman need not act sexual to be perceived as available for conquest, because Black women have historically been constructed as licentious whores, to justify the sexual violence that we have been subjected. This is particularly why Morgan's language cannot be cast aside as a harmless joke, nor can it be viewed as the least bit complimentary. How many times are we going to laugh at the reduction of marginalized people and justify it as harmless comedy?