Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Regina Benjamin Detractors Dissect Her Body Not Her Qualifications

Once again we see public discourse of a black woman's body. This time it's not Serena Williams being chided for being overweight and lazy but the Surgeon General nominee. Apparently when you are a black woman none of your accomplishments matter only your proportions. I lay this squarely at the feet of black men who have tried to alleviate their own failings, feelings of insecurity and disdain by publicly trashing other black women - and the ones who let them.  

As I've stated in an earlier post President Obama needs to address the needs of everyone who voted for him in a timely fashion. Some people are satisfied with symbols, i.e. a black face in a high place. If Attorney General Eric Holder was serious about his speech on race relations and backs it up with the full arm of the Department of Justice that would be a great start at dismantling that. Typically these high place people actually cause more harm than good.  He was far more candid publicly about his displeasure with the historical treatment of blacks - which may be at odds with the President's personal agenda of being the "everyman". We shall see. 

Continuing that constituency appeal Obama nominated Dr. Regina Benjamin to the post of Surgeon General last week. Now it's not a cabinet-level position but it does carry some weight. I was reluctant to get "happy" about this nomination simply because she happens to be black. Clarence Thomas is black and he's been absolutely HORRIBLE when it comes to preserving the hard-fought rights of our ancestors. I, like any good citizen would review the qualifications of the candidate and take it from there. So far I haven't heard anyone question Dr. Benjamin's credentials. She was named  a MacArthur Foundation Fellow last year which is a very prestigious award recognizing creativity and genius in its recipients. She was also the first African-American woman to serve on the American Medical Association (AMA) board of trustees as well as running a state medical society. She has an MD and an MBA. She's MORE than qualified. Of course black women usually ARE.

Instead she has been reduced to a body part. Like the nonsense with SCOTUS nominee Sonya Sotomayor's comment over being a "wise Latina" the lengths some people will go to diminish a woman's accomplishments never fails to amaze me. This isn't strictly a racial issue - not this time. It's pure and unbridled sexism against a non-white woman. I'd like to see NOW and other mainly white-oriented feminist organizations come out swinging against this. 

Dr. Benjamin does have a curvy figure but she's not auditioning for America's Next Top Model. In fact I recall Tyra Banks publicly railing against some unflattering photos of herself surfacing and telling everyone to kiss her butt! Whether Dr. Benjamin is carrying a few extra pounds is a red herring. Her detractors are looking for an excuse to diminish her stature publicly. I think she's not used to being photographed and will have to learn to navigate the extra publicity and heightened scrutiny but that she will be just fine. Even the President has had to deal with ridiculous expectations when some others criticized his choice in jeans. 

This reminds me of how Dr. Jocelyn Elders was thrown under the bus for suggesting that minors explore their own bodies instead of experimenting with each other to keep the OOW birth rate and STI rates down. Perhaps people don't want to hear that, but from a strictly practical standpoint what she said made sense. If young girls learn how their bodies operate they'd be less likely to attach that knowledge based on another person. In other words, they'd be might be more likely to turn a boy down for sex and seek out someone interested in a relationship. One is a more empowering decision.

It is ridiculous for Dr. Benjamin to have to adhere to a set of standards that don't apply to men. 

Here's a photo of C. Everett Coop, former SG. He doesn't look all that slim to me. He's always had a gut from what I recall and he served for years without incident. Dr. Benjamin wants to be the great health care equalizer as she has done at her clinic in private practice. I think this is part of a derailment plan by the insurers as well. We cannot take our eyes off the prize in getting them in line. 

I'm not surprised by the silence at this latest added insult but I am really sick of it! Blacks get all worked up over the arrest of a Harvard professor but it's crickets when a black woman is attacked. Yet again. This is why it's over for the "black community". I've intentionally not posted a photo of Dr. Benjamin because it's a ridiculous conversation.

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ZionFulfilled said...

You'll never hear from NOW. Remember, the Feminist movement was meant to protect the virtue of white women, not women of color. Historically, Feminist have been racist and purposely distanced themselves from the plight of people of color. I have always felt that it was stupid to think that the Civil Rights movement did not include Feminism seeing that Civil Rights is an issue for everyone. Therefore, black women need their own Feminist Group.

Meezie said...

I think it's odd that you choose to blame the President for reactions to his nomination of a Black woman to a high (albeit symbolic) post. His job isn't to "Daddy" sexists and racists or police their scurrilous commentary. He ELEVATED her. Once confirmed, she will always have that shining entry upon her resume/C.V.! Of course, his elevation of her makes her more visible and (unfortunately) vulnerable. But, do you think for one minute she blames him or declines his nomination because of what irrelevant, nameless, faceless OTHERS are saying about her (and we're not even talking senators)?!

I'm sorry; I am a newcomer to your site and as much as I enjoy it (AND as furious as I truly am at low, vile, self-hating, women-damaging Black men)? I reject the legitimacy of criticizing one who IS trying to uplift women by doing, not just blowing smoke. Every Black woman the President has nominated hasn't been "thrown under the bus;" they've been CONFIRMED. The Latina he's nominated hasn't been "thrown under the bus;" she's a shoo-in for confirmation. This President is VERY much UNLIKE Bill Clinton; sorry! In fact, Clinton IS more like many Black men than this President, who uplifts his Black wife, his Black mother-in-law, his Black daughters, and all the Black women with whom he is in contact.

I disagree with you re: the President and think you're wrong to find fault in this area. This is an area where he is strongest. Moreover, I think the tone of the recent posts here (again: I'm new) sound a weeeee bit bitter when speaking of President Obama. Why do I say that? Because when you get on the cases of the lame and low-rent wrongdoers? You're addressing a problem. When you do the same for the ones who aren't similarly vile? You alienate. Please don't blame, criticize, and denigrate the good ones. It doesn't help any of us; it may even hurt.

Thanks for your blog.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

researchbuff: I don't know about that. I think NOW and these other orgs do have their own agendas of white women being able to compete against white men but GLAAD stepped in when Perez Hilton was out of line and I made a public declaration of why they needed to here on this very blog. So I do think people listen when it's happens at the right time. I will be sending messages on Twitter to their accounts and we'll see. What I do know for sure is the utter silence by BLACK PEOPLE who immediately rally around any black man arrested guilty or not when it comes to attacks on black women. That is what I am more interested in confronting and addressing.

Meezie: When you don't sign in with an identifiable profile you already lose a certain amount of credibility if you're going to critique me. I am not "blaming" the President. I am stating the problem with blacks being pacified with symbols of power who do nothing to change the infrastructure.

It is other people that should be actively fighting for that but far too many rely on somebody else to do all the heavy lifting. You need to read for comprehension. I never said anything about every woman nominee nor is it all about Obama. Your Obama blind-eye is blocking your analytical skills. When you are ready to sit at the adult table and have an adult conversation of constructive criticism feel free to comment again. This is about Dr. Benjamin and rallying around her for support.

Anonymous said...

Greetings Faith,

Thank you for bringing this to your reader’s attention; I was NOT aware Dr. Benjamin's credentials were being evaluated against her physical appearance.

Governor Palin’s daughter conceived a child out of wedlock which was a big NO NO according to her family’s religious and social beliefs—yet when men attacked her daughter using satire, her parent’s political camp fought back hard.

When the NAACP, Rev. Al Sharpton, and others responded to the NY times depiction of Michelle Obama and President Obama as militant terrorist, ALL black folks were accused of:

*Being hyper sensitive
*Out of touch with current norms of journalism

This isn’t a nominee with a litany of personal, familial, or political failures. She’s not morbidly obese, sloppy looking, and unkempt.

I don’t worship the Obamassiah nor do I worship his wife. That doesn’t mean I wish them harm or don’t respect them. I expressed my concern prior to his election that his family would be held up as the standard or litmus test for other black folks to measure up to—and if you don’t fit their mold—you will be locked out of a certain element of our society.

I don’t blame white folks for this, because the majority of US reinforced this without expecting any demands for our votes, promoting that rap/hip-hop crap, and defending the dysfunctional behavior of poor blacks.

In particular I recall the media:
Reporting about research being conducted on black children to determine if having a “black” President and First Lady would elevate them academically ( Raise test scores)

Black Women showing their young school aged children pictures of Michelle Obama, and then telling their daughters: THEY are her?

I could go on and on...

I have a feeling that Dr. Benjamin may be experiencing the: “Why the hell you ain’t look like Michelle Obama, and you got all those degrees” attitude for both black and white people—especially MEN.

I *respectfully* disagree with a previous reader position that President Obama has delivered to the part of his constituency that gave him 90% of their vote. I vehemently reject the belief that just because my senator, represantvie, President ETC may be black or another person of color, that just because I am black, I don’t have a RIGHT to demand anything for my vote, as if my vote is just so worthless.

I cannot for the love God understand why as black people we half to settle for the first such and such while other groups of people require dominance and reciprocity in all that they do and they are not sitting up there beating each other up for it.


Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Miriam: You bring up interesting points that I'm going to think about. I still see Michelle being thought of as less-than in the eyes of numerous DBR black males though. Just last week I was reading a blog and came across a comment by some fool who claims he's dated women better-looking than Michelle. Perhaps but that's not really the point. Now if it's about whites expecting an intact family of educated parents who are polished and articulate, don't engage or associate with criminals or criminal activity with well-behaved children then that leaves a majority of "us" out of the loop!

Meezie: You are more than welcome to comment but I am of course going to respond to you. This is a forum where we have a cross-exchange of opinions respectfully but there will be no hand holding or guarantee of agreement of perspectives.

K.C. Jones said...

I wasn't aware that other feminists weren't talking about this! But then, I don't usually go over to the most mainstream sites, as I find they're usually drenched in bigotry. Kate Harding's Shapely Prose, a wonderful blog about the size acceptance movement, did a fabulous article on Benjamin about a week ago. I've come to not expect a lot of understanding on the issues that really matter like racism, GLBTQI issues, mental health, size acceptance (that matter to me, at least haha) from the feminists that are the most well-known, as there's probably a reason why they're more well-known, as in privilege and perhaps a certain unwillingness to recognize it. Shapely Prose, though, is becoming more well-known and has its own little tight-knit community, of which I am proud to be a part of. The author co-wrote a book, which just came out and its wonderfully empowering.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

KC: I am aware of Kate's work. I see where there might be an intersection between issues affecting white & black women but.....I have an issue with the "Fat Acceptance" movement and the efforts of a certain class of white women trying to normalize being heavier. I agree that the overall benefit of not pushing the super skinny ideal and health is important, but again I feel this is a movement for them by them.

Besides issues of weight amongst classes/race are from different sources. I do not think as many black women would be overweight if we removed ourselves from the dead "black community". Being thought of as a mule, asexual, unrapeable, not a "real" woman, etc are not issues the average white woman in this country is facing. Now I can see the overall patriarchy angle/oppressive forces but again they're apples & oranges. I won't assign a value I will just say it's not the same thing.

Also black women need to get a grip on this issue because it's holding us back. I can't speak for other women but I can say for myself that I know it makes things just a little bit harder on top of all the other crap we have to deal with.

Unknown said...

It's funny because when I read her creds, I was like, "word!"

Then to hear the insults? it's trifling.

There have been numerous appointees to that position who look frumpy and scary and NO ONE has every said anything.

It bothers me even more that it seems that no one is coming to her side to support her.

Dr. Benjamin is great in my book and her looks should have no bearing.