The morning after the 2008 election, I had an American Literature class with a white professor at a historically black university. This professor would prove drastically inferior to the brilliant black minds to which my education would acquaint me. He also proved consistently discouraging, seizing every opportunity to belittle the writing of a small class filled entirely with young black women. The morning following the election he spent a large portion of our fifty minute class condescendingly addressing the Obamas, treating a black family occupying the White House as many regarded the 2005 blackout. The most resonant of his comments some nine years later were the comments he made regarding Michelle Obama–namely the facial expression he wore when he called her victory dress ugly. Although he spoke of her dress, it was obvious that he regarded the black female body that was then the First Lady with a similar disgust. His comments cemented my perception of him as inherently racist, and fomented my understanding that the western world nurtures all whites to bear this predisposed racist mindset. This inherent racism became obvious in discussing black male Barack Obama but perhaps proved most transparent in discussing First Lady Michelle Obama.
The comments rendered by my former professor, mirrored the comments that would follow Michelle Obama throughout her time as First Lady, comments that would prove dichotomous to conversations surrounding current First Lady Melania Trump. Incidentally, the comments generated by both political figures unveils race and gender perceptions as stagnant.
Criticism surrounding the Obamas as a couple, frequently accused the Obama’s of using tax money to attend vacations. These accusations disregard the reality that Obamas were hardly broke before occupying the oval office. Much of the western psyche appears contingent on blacks circumscribed to an existence that is either dumb, ugly and poor. These contingencies plagued Michelle Obama’s First Lady status, bludgeoning her image with comments that functioned to reduce her to an angry black female undeserving of the First Lady title.
Michelle faced constant criticism for her racially assertive Princeton thesis entitled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” Many referenced this thesis as evidence that Michelle Obama “hated this county,” was “racist.” Despite centuries of turmoil, the blacks in America remain consistently pressured to embody a grateful stance toward a country that continues to oppress them. Those who operate with any kind of historical cognizance are commonly killed, or incarcerated labeled a “criminal” if male and and “angry” if black and female. The western media constantly painted Michelle Obama as an angry black woman in her failure to adopt a pageant smile for each and every public appearance. In reality, claims of an attitude and ungratefulness veil the true catalyst for Michelle Obama’s criticism. While campaigning for Hilary Clinton would consummate the shuking and jiving expected of her, Obama’s behavior would still prove deficient to the praise white America expected her to sing with every word and facial expression.
Although centuries separated from physical slavery. the western world renders a series of impositions onto the black body that mirror the demands faced by their ancestors. Perhaps the most prominent of these demands is a demand for blacks to occupy a pride-less state. This lack of pride allows the black body to become a vessel for white ideologies. In place of self-esteem, pride-less bodies displace esteem onto their oppressors. What is perhaps most disturbing is that Michelle is not Angela Davis, Assata Shakur or Winnie Mandela, and white society still strives to break her stride. This illustrates that whether fractionally or undeniably present, black pride poses a threat to white supremacy–as black shame is necessary to foment white pride.
Many comments corresponding to an article or photo of Michelle Obama referred the former first lady as Moonchelle, aligning her aesthetics to that of an ape. The ridicule Michelle Obama faced for her looks operates out of necessity. White ridicule on black aesthetics occurs almost predictably, implemented by whites to assert their own beauty. Tanning salons to darken colorless skin, lip and butt injections to add definition to thin features, and hair extensions to veil see-through locks, unveil the depth of white insecurity. Yet the western world functions to convince the black body their aesthetically traits are cringe-worthy not covetable. The frequent juxtaposition between Michelle Obama and Melania Trump functions similarly, for it is Michelle’s “ugliness” that provides a platform for current first lady, Melania Trump’s beauty.
Melania Trump, the third wife of President Donald Trump, succeeds Michelle Obama in the role of first lady. A native of Slovenia, Melania had a successful modeling career prior to marrying Trump — a man twenty-four years her senior. Her modeling photos have since surfaced and reveal that our now first lady posed nude and for a paycheck. This fact proves rigid western standards optional when posed to those of the majority. Singer Janet Jackson was blacklisted from numerous award shows following a wardrobe malfunction that revealed her breast to the word during the 2004 Super Bowl. Nudity also disqualified Vanessa Williams from the Miss America title in 1983. Yet Melania Trump holds a much more prestigious and influential position and her naked body remains a click away from anyone with Internet access. This double standard illustrates nudity as a smokescreen. The western world simply did not want to award Williams this honor, so they searched and searched until they discovered a past act or statement that suggested it was William’s unworthiness not racism that warranted the retracted honor. Michelle Obama’s media portrayal functioned similarly, as her implied “ungratefulness” suggested that it is not racism that foments her criticism but her behavior.
While Michelle Obama faced criticism for her appearance, Melania Trump garners consistent praise for her looks. Although easily attributed to preference, celebration surrounding a surgically altered face illustrates a western preference for any face as long as it’s white. Melania’s looks also garner praise possibly due to her lack of professional accomplishments that prove germane given her new setting. While Michelle Obama proved an anomaly as one of the few first ladies to bear a professional degree, Melania blends in to the trophy status preferred by our white supremacist society.
In contemplating current discussion surrounding women’s rights under the Trump administration, the white house dynamic unveils feminism as existing to serve women like Melanie Trump. Currently trending is the The #freeMelania hashtag, a reactionary measure implemented following a photograph where Melania supposedly appears “terrified.” To occupy myself with feminist concerns such as this one, is to overlook that black females still fight for the “freedoms” extended to Melania. Melania-a woman who willingly journeyed to America and accrued more liberties after getting her green card than black females have received in centuries, is not a figure worthy of sympathy from anyone—especially not the black female. Brains earned the black female body a place in the white house. Whether looking up at a camera or at Donald, the current first lady earned the same title on back. Furthermore, the Michelle Obama and Melanie trump dichotomy illustrates that to earn visibility in the western world the black female body must posses a degree of greatness, whereas the white female body simply has to be white.
So while the feminist community concerns themselves with “freeing” Melania, as a womanist, I deem freeing the back female body from western influences like feminism far more relevant.