Friday, April 3, 2009

Hey, you're just like that other black lady!

In today's Daily Beast, Tina Brown wrote a positive review of "Mighty Michelle" Obama's taking Europe by storm. But this one thing irked me. The post is titled "Is Michelle the New Oprah?"

American women already admired Michelle Obama before she left for London—her popularity rating had risen 18 points, to 72 percent, since September—but the TV coverage in the last two days has dialed her up dramatically to another level. Suddenly she has zoomed past Oprah as the inspirational It Girl and iconic female African-American role model. Read more...

Yes, Michelle and Oprah are both successful, black women who have lived in the Windy City and support Barack Obama. But, by that criteria, Michelle Obama is the new ME. Exactly how is the First Lady like the First Lady of Daytime Television? Their successes have come in different realms. Their educational backgrounds are different. Their family backgrounds are different. Their personal lives are different. Their fame is different. One woman is a single, billionaire TV star with a media empire. One woman is an Ivy League-educated attorney, corporate star and mother, whose husband manages an "empire" (so to speak). They are both awesome women and national icons, but so is, say, Hillary Cinton, a Seven Sisters-educated attorney, corporate star and mother, whose husband managed an "empire" (after which she came damned close to managing it, too). Brown's comparison seems like one based more on race than anything else.

I could be biased. I think every POC has experienced that thing where a person wants someone to compare your looks, abilities or situation to and settles on some random other POC that really isn't all that similar in looks, ability or situation to you. You can tell by the conversation that it is your race that the person sees as your most salient trait. And it is annoying to no end. And it is marginalizing.

I agree with rpmosby, one commenter at The Daily Beast:

There is no need to compare Oprah and Michelle. The world is big enough for two brilliant, accomplished black women.


Anonymous said...

I hear you Tami. So sick of "all black women are alike!" So done with that!! Oprah and Michelle are not even remotely alike!

Is Ellen ANYTHING like Suze Orman or Rachel Maddow! Are ANY of those lesbians at all like me? Well maybe Rachel Maddow :-) BUT that's a maybe folks :-)


belledame222 said...

argh, yeah.

Lady C said...

Tami, I agree with you--it is about race.

It seems that there can only be one of us (POC) in a prominent position at one time. There are a lot of women of color out there who resemble Michelle Obama, but the MSM and others choose to focus on the ones who don't.

MilesPerHour said...

Ok, I'm not a black woman but I do read Tami's posts regularly. All I could think when I read this one was "Why do we have to compare people at all"? We are all different, even with all of our similarities.

On the lighter side at least noone is asking if Barack is the next George W.

MacDaddy said...

Being two successful black women from Chicago doesn't necessarily make anyone alike. Instead of doing an in-depth analysis to see differences as well as similarities, some folks just want to make black folks all the same.

Jill said...

Thank you for writing this. This is one of those observations that I also had - almost exactly - and yet I did think, as a white woman of privilege, am I allowed to say, "why are they even trying to compare these two women?" Maybe I should not be as timid - I don't know - but thank you for validating that it wasn't a weird thought.

I'd also like suggest that there are many groups subjected to similar comparisons, and I think it says far more about the person asserting the comparison (That they don't know enough people of that "Variety") than it does about the ones they're pointing out.

For example: Jewish folks. Or lesbians, gays or transgender. Or someone from a foreign country. Or even people of different professions - like lawyers, or teachers, or factory workers.

We get so stuck classifying people, we forget just how different people are within any one otherwise organizing characteristic.

I know I break my own rules about this kind of thing - I'm sure I "group" people too when I shouldn't. But you make a really good case for me (and others) to try and be extremely cautious and conscientious about doing it - at our own risk.

Thanks, Tami.

ActsofFaithBlog said...

Yes it was a lazy comparison. Tina Brown has shown her ignorance on quite a few television appearances lately so I'm not surprised. Is Sarah Brown like Carla Bruni? Of course not!

Renee said...

I have to admit that I am a bit conflicted on this one. On one hand I am absolutely sick of her being compared to rich over privileged white women and so to see her at least put into the circle with another WOC is a change of pace but it also smacks of all black women are alike. I think we just need to start validating and respecting Michelle for what she is, a fine example of black womanhood.

Vérité Parlant said...

Subconscious racism. Yup. That'd be it.

snobographer said...

Sorry, we already have a black female role model.
Reminds me of female rock stars back in the 1970s. Oh, sorry, Heart, we already have a Pat Benetar.

the bewilderness said...

There can be only one!

Obviously if she is not the new Jackie O, then she must be the new Oprah.
The media will continue to search for a popular person to measure her against, else how would they catapult the propaganda in a way that makes it look like information.

Anonymous said...

Uh oh, who's Sarah Brown and Carli??? Hopeless with pop-culture, seriously hopeless :-)


Anonymous said...

"The world is big enough for two brilliant, accomplished black women."

sadly, it appears it isn't.


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