So I did say that commercial network news sickens me. Not as much as the attitudes the media reflect.
The inauguration was in the middle of the night for me, so I woke up to the television coverage.
Before I continue, I must say that I have mixed feelings about President Obama’s politics. For the most part, I am filled with hope and happiness. He has a range of progressive policies that just warm the heart, particularly in comparison with the Republican alternatives. It’ll be just something else if he overturns the Global Gag Rule. But there’re always the compromises that sour the experience. The half-hearted commitment to LGBTQI rights – well, the conversation has mostly been about same-sex marriage – is in my thoughts in particular. And even outside official policy, there’s been a passive resistance that’s quite disheartening. Perhaps this is just an example of bad organising, but Cara’s post on how inaccessible the inauguration was really hit home. What change are PWD to believe in? In addition, as I’ve been writing this, ABW posted that transport was poorly organised in general.
Overall, however, I felt rising excitement. I was looking forward to a beautiful speech as well as thoughtful and interesting coverage of the ceremonies and festivities. Instead, I temporarily forgot my resolution to stay away from commercial network news.
I’d been reading a lot around the feminist and related blogospheres about the silly messages floating around the US media over the last few months. “Equality has come to America.” “We’re in a post-racial world.” It was a bit much for me to see that this rubbish had spread all around the world and that I could sit in front of my television in Australia and hear this stuff coming out of smiling mouths. These journalists were secure in the truth of what they were saying.
The presenters on Channel Nine’s Today began discussing Michelle Obama’s clothes. It was while they were trying to decide if the clothes she was wearing were coloured canary yellow or mustard that I burst into tears.
Let me put it simply for you, Channel Nine, Georgie Gardner and Lisa Wilkinson.
Michelle Obama is a person. As such, she consists of more than her clothes.
There are many immediately evident matters you could talk about. She is the First Lady of the United States, after all. Perhaps you could talk about how she contributed to her husband’s campaign. Perhaps you could talk about her amazing career. Perhaps you could talk about how she might use her influence through the office of the First Lady.
There are many other matters you could have spoken about. Seeing, as we’ve established, she is a person, it follows that she is not to be treated as merely a hollow image. People have dreams and embarrassments and memories and characters and histories. It’s not prudent to pull these things into the open and discuss them on television. It is prudent to remember that we all have these elements in us and to therefore treat our fellow human beings with respect.
She is more than a dress.
It’s vastly disrespectful of Michelle Obama as a black woman. This kind of coverage and these kind of attitudes simultaneously ignore and perpetuate the ways in which black women are shoved backwards and made to feel small. A black woman’s hair is always up for criticism, of course, and a first lady must present herself in a way that will advance her husband; it’s only natural. The F-Word has a good round-up of Michelle Obama-related posts. On a whole new scale of bizarre that I never thought I’d see, Germaine Greer thought it appropriate to critique her fashion sense. There’s even a website named Michelle Obama Watch.
I was really upset by that. The intersection of race and gender is just overwhelming. There’s no call for the media to brush it aside – and ensure their complicity.
As Latoya says in her excellent Waking Up in
“Post-Racial” America from November:
More than that, it was kind of a strange moment to have talked about race for the last two years, and to suddenly have the MSM discover the topic like it was brand new. It was just jarring to see the people they found to opine on the real meaning of race seconds after the election was announced, and how quickly the post-racial mantle was assumed by members of the press.
I also find it interesting that folks think there will be progress without cost. As if after every civil rights (and now, arguably, post-civil rights) victory all the opposition just melted away, and that people who were avowed segregationists instantly changed their minds and opened their hearts.
But we all know that did not happen.
I am so, so over the term “post-racial”. If you are using it, I have a hard time believing that you believe what you’re saying. I’m more inclined to believe you’re wilfully ignoring that race and racism are alive and well.
I’ll leave you with Renee. If only the folks at Channels 7 and 9 read her.
As the tears run down your cheek and your heart swells with hope, I challenge you to look at the ways in which you support the system simply by inaction. I challenge you to see the ways in which you refuse to be a catalyst for change. What we do not need is more feel good slogans; we need a commitment to change and that begins by meeting each other as equals in conversations about the problems that plague society.