Celebrating Black Women: Michelle Obama

One of the best analysts of U.S. racism ever in my view, Patricia J. Williams, has a great column in The Nation on Michelle Obama (Creative Commons License photo credit: AlexJohnson). (I wonder how many of us considered her one of the best reasons to vote for Barack Obama last November?) She begins with how Ms. Obama defies:

Michelle Obama

the boxes into which black (as well as many Latina, Asian and white) women have been caged; she expands the force field of feminism in ecumenical and unsettling ways. . . . given the centuries during which black women have been relentlessly taxonomized as mammy rather than mom, many black and brown women find this phenomenon paradoxically, even sweetly transgressive. In some ways it’s an echo of the cultural tension within the “women’s lib” movement of the 1960s and ’70s: relatively privileged white women wanted to be liberated into the workplace; relatively exhausted and exploited black women wanted to be liberated from it.

Patricia Hill Collins, currently American Sociological Association president, has critically assessed these traditional black female stereotypes in her writings, which have helped to develop the now strong black feminist thought tradition.

Williams, of course, is not trying to criticize either type of women’s situation (home or outside workplace) as such, but accenting that what is

frequently missing from the discussion of black women is their role as loving mothers, beloved wives, valued partners, cherished daughters, cousins, relatives. . . . Where, for heaven’s sake, is a picture of black femininity (in particular, that of darker-skinned, nontragic femininity) that might signify beauty, chic, elegance, vulnerability, sophistication? . . . And so Michelle Obama represents a more comprehensive identity for all women, but particularly for black women. . . . hers is a well-rounded life, one of multiple roles and layered humanity. She is powerful yet approachable, highly educated yet colloquial, bare-armed but modest, playful but consummately civilized.

And she has an international impact as well:

She projects a powerfully modern image to conservative constituencies around the globe, whether in the Muslim world; or in Israel, where ultra-Orthodox newspapers recently airbrushed out all the women from a photo of Netanyahu’s new cabinet; or in China, where male children are so fetishized that each year thousands of boys are kidnapped and sold.


  1. Jenni M.

    I definitely saw Michelle as a key reason to vote for Obama – when I found myself in doubt of his “real” progressiveness, I found myself thinking “Michelle will keep him real.” I, for one, am in love with my first lady!

  2. Chelsea L.

    Michelle Obama has already made a huge impact on our country. Being the First Lady it always said how Michelle Obama is always dressed so nicely and upholding a great presentation. This goes to show how her femininity is being looked upon constantly to make sure she upholds that “look” that is meant for a woman, but also for a First Lady. On the other hand while being in such high standings, Michelle Obama has also contributed to society in numerous ways that aren’t “typical” for a woman to do, while also upholding her motherly position doing what most mother’s typical jobs are. It is important for people to recognize that although a woman can be a mother that she can also contribute to several other things even though they may be more masculine prone activities. Like Patricia Collins said Michelle Obama has pushed aside many stereotypes that are constantly being forced into our lives about the way that woman and men should be. With her help internationally she is also allowing for others to see the way she is helping to get rid of stereotypes such as the one listed above about women being airbrushed out of a picture because they aren’t allowed on the newspaper. It’s important to know that women in the workforce is increasing and 68 million women were employed in the U.S. Seventy-five percent of employed women worked on full-time jobs and twenty-five percent worked part-time. With positive women influences we can only hope that it will continue to increase and will be looked upon more positively.

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