Conservatives Mixing Sexism and Racism Against the First Fam Again

Just weeks after Republican pundits and radio shock jocks, Meghan McCain, and some mainstream media like The View rallied around Gov Palin’s children over David Letterman’s joke, The Free Republic Blog and its commenters made extremely racist and sexist comments about the First Family, and 10 year old Malia Obama in particular. In so doing, they showed little concern for the rhetoric that “children are off limits” or that “girls and daughters” need to be protected against media sexism.

remocasilliRueters/ Remo Casilli

According to the Vancouver Sun, an image of First Lady Obama talking to daughter Malia was accompanied by the caption “To entertain her daughter, Michelle Obama loves to make monkey sounds.” The linking of the wife of the President of the United States derogatory eugenicist visions of black people is not new. However, the response to that image and the one above featuring 10 year old Malia Obama and her body guards by a blog, known as a “the premier online gathering place for independent, grass-roots conservatism on the web” (free republic) and a key oranizing/fundraising site for the Republican party, highlights the conflation of sexism and racism in the party ranks.  Comments like:

  • A typical street whore
  • Wonder when she will get her first abortion

And others referring to the Obamas and their children as “ghetto street trash” were allowed to stay up on the site for a full day before complaints by researchers made the moderators take them down. There was no apology issued. Nor was there any similar outcry from Republicans so ready to stand up for “young girls” and “daughters” a few weeks ago when we were talking about Palin’s children now that the sexist attacks were aimed at young black girls living in the White House. Why the disparity on a site that claims it does not support racism and has certainly posted comments condemning sexism aimed at Palin and her family?

Worse, according to the Vancouver Sun, the first 100 comments continued a vein of disparaging all of the women in the First Family unchecked, including not only the comments above but reference to Michelle Obama’s mother as “free loading” and Michelle Obama as “mammy” and “witch.” These comments engender a continued completely unrealistic depiction of the First Family as living unfairly off of tax payer money, that includes criticism of them for traveling as part of international affairs required for the job of President and Michelle Obama’s clothes and accessories. No similar complaints were ever levied against the other 43 First Ladies or their children, in fact President’s wives from Eleanor Roosevelt to Laura Bush have all been praised for their involvement in foreign affairs as good will ambassadors who shine a light on particular causes as well as accompany their husbands on critical diplomatic events. These other First Ladies, have all been seen as key players in the establishment of rapport with foreign leaders and in working hard on key issues like women’s health, children’s issues (education, health, safety), and human rights. During the primaries, Hillary Clinton pointed to the role of the First Lady in foreign and domestic affairs as a key learning ground for experience to lead the nation and even her distracters have praised what she gained in these years as part of her import to smooth foreign relations in the present administration. Yet Michelle Obama has been consistently singled out as an illegitimate presence on the international stage by Republican critics. Her travel is seen, not as a critical part of foreign relations, but as an unfair vacation on tax payers dime.  Her clothes are assumed to be bought by tax payers as if she were a “welfare waif,” as implied by many of the comments made on the Free Republic site. No one, left or right, has stopped to point out that Michelle Obama was a successful lawyer and university administrator prior to entering the White House and likely owned a purse or two before arriving in DC.

The criticism of the Obamas as some how impoverished and exploitative has been so severe that the Obamas themselves paid for the remodeling of the girls rooms despite a 43 president long tradition of having those renovations made out of a taxpayer fund. In fact, Republican former First Lady Laura Bush suggested remodeling of the girls rooms when the Obamas visited the White House and explained that there is a fund specifically set up for the upkeep of the home and any renovations. Many First Ladies have taken it upon themselves to redecorate, as have some Presidents.  Jackie O was praised for the extensive remodeling she did during her time in the White House and still is to this day. Why are questions of spending being applied to the Obama family that were never applied to other First Families if not to paint Michelle Obama as the ultimate welfare queen and to express longheld anxiety of the supposed advancement of black women at the supposed expense of “hardworking [white] Americans.”

There is something profoundly dehumanizing about the targeting of women and young girls to make an essentially unsubstantiated and illogical argument about the legitimacy of the Obama administration. The conflation of racism and sexism to demean Malia Obama and the rest of the Obama women is no less heinous than the targeting of Palin’s children during the presidential campaign. One cannot help but notice the disparity in the response to demeaning comments made about then 17 year old Bristol Palin’s real life sexual activity and reproductive choices and the projection of those same issues on to pre-adolescent Malia Obama, who is neither sexually active nor pregnant.

When Republicans rally for the rights of “young girls everywhere” the reason why such decrees ring false, is precisely because they fail to mean all girls, everywhere. Often it feels as though they are attempting to consume feminist rhetoric in order to regurgitate it back in its “proper” hegemonic imaginging in which girls are once again pink-cheeked cherubs awaiting white Knights.  As more proof, the website in question returned the comment section in tact after only a momentary suspension and the sexist and racist onslaught of comments about the Obamas continued, including comments about people getting or wanting to get guns. No such threats were made against Palin’s children and it made national news and had Meghan McCain lividly denouncing the “liberal media” from her position ” as a daughter and a young woman” both in print and on television. Where is Meghan now?

But before anyone gets smug about the Republican “evil” in our midst, are Republicans anymore guilty than they myriad of liberal feminist blogs who have said nothing about the attack on 11 year old Malia? Where are the bloggers who spent so much time documenting the sexism against Hillary Clinton during the primaries and demanding that sexism be removed from politics once and for all? Why are they not as outraged by the attacks on Michelle, her mother, and her children? Why are the WS skills they use to deconstruct the sexualization of girls, the eroding of reproductive freedom, and the vilification of working class women not being combined to discuss how the Obama administration is being attacked through the perpetuation of the mythic pregnant young black welfare queen and its projection first on to Michelle Obama and now her 11 year old daughter? As a women’s studies scholar, I must return to this question even in light of Republican sexism and racism because I am deeply concerned about the ways that the demeaning of women of color continues to be seen as a racial issue and not women’s issues even when the form of attack is clearly about key feminist issues like: reproductive choice and sex work. If liberals re unable to see the Obama women as women, or evenly briefly after a woc has pointed it out, can we really blame anyone else? And why are we still failing to mean ALL women when we organize, teach, or learn about women?

Ultimately, some Republican comment makers and liberal bloggers forced the Free Republic to take down the thread. The decision, which both corrects the offense while also hiding it from public record, comes way too late to hide the truth of racism and sexism in N. America. The fact that this time that racism and sexism occurred at the expensive of a young child should highlight how deep these oppressions run in this country, all the more so because similar perpetration against children in Philly is weighing so heavily on many of our minds. While we are demanding an end to sexism and racism and hypocrisy on the Right, we should also take some time to combat it on the left, and to ask ourselves why children (anyone’s children) have become the battlefield of choice.

If you blogged about this incident please drop a link in the comment section. If you have thoughts on why we continue to fail young girls of color, let me know.


15 thoughts on “Conservatives Mixing Sexism and Racism Against the First Fam Again

  1. I agree that the White feminst blogs are a part of the problem. Actually, they’re a big part of the problem. In fact, to my knowledge, your blog and Womanist Musings are the only two feminist/womanist blogs that have blogged on this topic.

    In fact, if you don’t mind, I am going to create a post and link to your post and to Renee’s post over at Womanist Musings. The two of you have very eloquently spoken on this topic.

      • I avoid most mainstream media, and I have to admit I didn’t even know these things were being said until I read this blog (which I found through a link from another site while browsing feminist and LGBT topics).

        I’m not an activist, and I’m not a blogger in the public sense. I’m not even much of a writer and always have difficulty putting my thoughts into a coherent and readable form, but I’m going to give it a try here.

        What is being said about the First Family is reprehensible. And the idea that the various feminist groups and groups that support and aspire to racial equality are remaining silent on this topic is, well it’s frightening. Why aren’t the Obama family getting any kind of support from the groups who are so vocal about stopping this sort of activity when it’s directed at any one else?

        And while these comments damaging to the Obama family, and I have no wish to deny that, these comments are also damaging to our nation’s political standing in the international community as well. How can we, as a nation, insist on human rights, equality for women, people of color or any other oppressed or marginalized group, when we allow sexist, mysogynistic and racist comments to be made about our President’s family in the media without countering them? Without one single legitimate media outlet stepping up to say “This is wrong and you need to stop.”.

        Maybe this is why I stopped reading (or watching) legitimate media in first place.

      • welcome to the blog Pega. You raise an interesting and important point about our global image and credibility. thanks for adding that piece.

  2. I pray to God that Malia will grow up to be a strong woman just like her mother. In spite of some people’s criticism, I would hope Obama to continue to take the girls to foreign trip. It really bothers some racists to see black children along with the black president and first lady representing the US. It probably requires a lot of courage but I believe in the end will help change the mindset of the people in the world. There are a lot of good people who are not informed and not used to seeing black people in high offices. I hope Malia to keep her head high and grow up to be a strong, beautiful and kind-hearted woman who will help transform the world for good like her father.

    • welcome to the blog Georgee. I hope this too for all politicans’ children b/c they are all one step closer to political power than the rest of us, in that way I agree with Palin. Unfortunately, I think we disagree on the “good ppl” part, I thik far too many ppl invested in oppression claim to be good ppl to keep from looking in the mirror. Here’s hoping you are right that just having the Obama girls in the White House will change both them and our nation for the better.

  3. Pingback: Once again, silence « Miss Incognegro

  4. I guess the shoe is on the other foot now. Did you protest the sexist attacks directed at Hillary Clinton during the democratic primaries? What about the sexist insults against Sarah Palin? A lot of people chose to condone sexism, misogyny and the trashing of politician children during the presidential campaign last year and it a little bit late to put the genie back in the bottle.

    • Welcome to the blog Alinosof. Actually, I did blog about sexism against Clinton, Palin, and Bristol Palin b/c this blog is about ALL women. (And as I point out, many of the silent bloggers, blogged about it too.)

      Now my question for you: why is it that when people are caught acting like bigots the first thing they do is try to say everyone else is guilty?

  5. Thanks Prof susurro for blogging about this. I think it’s sad racism and sexism still is the weapon used to shoot people down or at least try. The mainstream media on cares about themselves. As for now, the mainstream is predom white.
    Until all people color become part of mainstream then issues as such will come until light. Also they did not report a racist aide for a Senator black marked non-photo of Obamawith two eye on it while listing all 44 presidents.
    I heard about this on my mom’s fav A-A christian radiostation last week or two.

    I think this will only get worse until mainstream wants free repblic shutdown. Maybe in time this will happen.

    I agree with you ,P.S. Good job in reporting this information. I was not aware of the incident.

    • welcome to the blog Lunakiss. I didn’t know about this other incident, but I think that is part of your point (ppl aren’t reporting it). I am happy to see that MSNBC covered the Malia Obama incident today however. We have to keep talking and keep documenting.

  6. Glad I stumbled on to this blog. I wandered over here from The New Agenda – there’s a link to you in the comments section on this. I guess you haven’t seen anything about it from the feminist community because many of us don’t follow the conservative blogs, until we found ourselves in strange alliance with them over what happened to Palin. Many of us are finding the sexism at the liberal blogs is crazy enough to keep us busy without seeing what the right wing nuts are up to. But you make a good point, we ought to be patrolling all viewpoints, and calling this kind of crap out when we see it.

    • welcome to the blog sharon. I’m not sure what the New Agenda is but I do find that liberals who frequent conservative blogs often link them to me as a counter-point, and I don’t know what that says about what I write here . . . I hope its a good thing. And you’re right confronting oppression on one front is hard enough but to end it we do have to fight it everywhere.

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