Amber Rose v. Michelle Obama: The Problem with the Respectability Meme

It was just a few weekends ago that Amber Rose became the umpteenth person to attempt to “break the internet” with her balcony bikini shot. But this past weekend I saw this:

photo

A man posted this on Instagram along with the caption, “My mother always told me there are only two types of women in the world…Those you marry and those you ‘date.'” Needless to say, I was mad for Amber Rose and tired of comments like this.

For the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about respectability down to what it means for a woman to wear a certain color suit to an interview and risk not being respected because of it. I realized that respectability is largely in the eyes of the beholder and for women that beholder is usually men–but also sometimes other women. In this instance, the beholder is a black man–although quite a few black women chimed in to affirm the message of this image and his caption and, of course, his mother is the origin of this thinking. But there are so many problems with this respectability meme.

Amber Rose at the VH1 Movie Awards (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Is she respectable marriage material now or nah? (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

First, to juxtapose Amber Rose in her bathing suit with Michelle Obama in a dress on two clearly different occasions and imply that one deserves respect while the other doesn’t is not logical. This was Amber Rose relaxing on vacation not Amber Rose in the supermarket or at a formal event. It’s comparing apples to oranges. How about using an image of them both in similar situations and seeing where you land then? (Although it’s pretty hard to find a picture of Michelle Obama in a bathing suit.) Making the case that Amber Rose doesn’t deserve respect because of what she is wearing here–and what she wears on the regular–is no different from claiming that a woman is asking to be raped or otherwise violated because of what she chooses to wear. (Yes I made that connection and I don’t think it’s a stretch because we have evidence to affirm that some use what a woman wears for the “She was asking for it” argument.)

Yes Amber Rose’s livelihood comes from posting pictures such as her balcony bikini and for being a public figure who makes people clutch their pearls, but I don’t regard her as less worthy of my respect than Michelle Obama. If anything, I must constantly remind myself that my respect for her and women like her shouldn’t be based on what they wear but on who they are on a fundamental level–there’s a quote from a theologian or philosopher about loving human beings as ends and means but I can’t find it. And yes, I will address my “women like her” classification because I acknowledge the problematic nature of that statement. Who Amber Rose is, on a fundamental level, is a woman and a human being who deserves respect and regard before she puts a thread of clothing on. She is more than her body.

I hate that man’s IG post and caption because it relies on the thought that a woman’s worth is in her presentation rather than other defining characteristics. It is dependent on making the body the primary site of respectability and for Amber Rose, being as endowed as she is, whether she wears clothes or not, her respectability will always be in question. Is Amber Rose not more than her body–even if all she shows us is her body? And that’s another issue, as people we struggle with issues of embodiment and women such as Amber Rose end up bearing the brunt of the struggle.

I’ve long struggled with body issues related to what it means to grow into being a “shapely” or “curvy” woman–as I’ve heard people call me–and being such as a woman of faith who has lived under a special type of politics of respectability. I’ve watched myself go from being fairly thin to developing larger thighs, hips, and a noticeable backside. I didn’t start wearing figure-flattering clothes until my mid-to-late 20s when I realized that I didn’t have the problem, it was the world around me that made me afraid of my body. Yet, I’m still sometimes weary of what I wear to certain places because I don’t want to draw attention to myself or have someone think I’m “that kind of girl.” That there is even a “that kind of girl” in my mind is all thanks to a society that likes to judge a book by its cover. Bodily comportment matters in our culture and should you choose to put something on your body that is figure-flattering or just revealing, you risk being ostracized or considered a “fast-tailed girl,” a “THOT,” and whatever else they are calling women nowadays whose presentation doesn’t conform to the norm. Or it doesn’t help men flee temptation–because let’s be honest, a part of the problem is that some men project their lack of self-control on women and make us feel bad for dressing a certain way, but we are not the problem. As Jessica Williams from the Daily Show said, “Get some impulse control!”

But Amber Rose is not the only victim of the politics of respectability, even Michelle Obama, our current icon of black female respectability, has been criticized for wearing clothes that are too figure-flattering, revealing, or that are just too glamorous. So maybe we can’t win for trying. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case because there is still more room in the annals of respectability for Michelle Obama than there is for the Amber Roses of the world.

I commend Amber Rose for deciding, day after day, to live out who she is in this moment and obey her truth instead of conforming. I commend her for her expression of her womanhood because that is just what this is, one woman’s expression of her womanhood. I want more people, not just men, to get in the habit of thinking about what is at stake when we judge the Amber Roses of the world. Or anyone else whose lifestyle leads them in a different direction than what we were taught is the respectable way–and I wish we could do away with respectability altogether.

It will always be troubling to me that men, who have fewer options with which to present themselves, have the audacity to judge a woman who chooses to present and express herself in one way over the other. It is also troubling to me that a woman could tell her son that there are only two types of women in the world, the ones you marry and the ones you date. If I have a son I will never reduce women to an either/or. If I have a daughter, I will encourage her to find ways to express her womanhood however that feels natural to her–when she comes of age of course. She may grow up to be like Michelle Obama or like Amber Rose or like another woman who isn’t on the limited spectrum of women who represent respectability and non-respectability that the meme proposes. There are a lot of women between and beyond Amber Rose and Michelle Obama that a little girl could grow up to be like and all of them are worthy of the same respect and love.

Advertisements

On Second Thought, Selma Was Snubbed

On MLK Day I finally had an opportunity to see “Selma.” Yes, my last post on this blog was that “Selma” wasn’t snubbed and I wrote it having not seen the movie and I don’t regret it. I didn’t write it as someone who believed the movie wasn’t good, I knew “Selma” was good from the moment I saw the trailer during a “Scandal” commercial break on November 6. So when the Oscar nominations came and went with “Selma” only being nominated in two categories I really just felt it was par for the course. I honestly don’t expect the academy to rally around us every year–sad but true–and feel like they think they gave us our glory last year and we’ll have to wait another few years–also sad but probably true. But now that I’ve seen and felt “Selma” I do believe it was snubbed. Why?

1. It wasted no time. The first five minutes of the film alone made it worth a direction and cinematography nomination. To move from the calm of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepting his Nobel Peace Prize and then cut to the chaos of little girls bodies drifting in the back draft of a church explosion was an incredible feat. It was not only visually arresting but it was emotionally gripping. How quickly those little girls went from wishing for hair like Coretta’s to meeting their maker. Reality struck. The moment thrusts viewers into the narrative arc of the film and of history establishing that in the midst of seeming moments of calm there is chaos somewhere and this should set us on edge. DuVernay wasted no time.

2. “Selma” gave us a look at the march from several different angles without ever seeming aimless and disjointed. We saw the story from the perspective of King and the SCLC, SNCC, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gov. Wallace, and the media. I may be missing a few other perspectives but, suffice to say, the view of all of the aforementioned provided for a multilayered understanding of the issues at hand for all involved. It did all of this without being heavy-handed, losing focus, or confusing the viewer. There are times when a film seeks to do too much and it shows, but it never showed in “Selma.”

123.The casting was FLAWLESS. Carmen Ejogo was the best choice to play Coretta. From the minute she graced the screen in the beautiful beaded appliqué gown with her hair precisely coiffed to match the late Coretta Scott King’s, I felt that I was undoubtedly looking at a holographic image of young Coretta. But it’s not just that Ejogo looked like Coretta but that she embodied her presence. Coretta Scott King was regal. She could say much or little, but I imagine that when she walked into a room she commanded attention. Ejogo did that. Her words were few but her presence spoke volumes. But Ejogo wasn’t the only casting gold. Of course we all know that David Oyelowo as Martin was perfect in looks–despite his being a touch darker than Martin–and embodiment. Other perfect casting included Bayard Rustin played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, James Bevel played by Common, and Andrew Young played by Andre Holland. The casting is not only about the look but the embodiment and in a movie of this nature, embodiment is key. Most, if not all, of the actors were able to become their roles to the point where you forgot who they were in reality. That is the key to great casting.

4. It took the audience somewhere. I concluded my previous post on “Selma” by stating that the film convicting and moving people is an award in itself. As I watched it I was sitting between two men. A white man I didn’t know on my left and my friend, a black man from Alabama, on my right. I cannot deny the tension I felt during the film, having moments where at once my internal voice said, “I hate white people,” while wanting to hold my friend’s hand and/or rest my head on his shoulder because I was so overcome with emotion. (To be clear, I don’t hate white people I hate their privilege and their failure to recognize that they have it whether they want it or not because of the color of their skin.) DuVernay’s depiction of “Bloody Sunday” set the movie theatre on edge. I looked around and saw the man on my left wincing and wiping away his tears, my friend on the right with his hands clasped in front of his face, and many others throughout the movie theatre watching in a state of shock and sadness. The movie did and is doing affective work inside and outside of the theatre and that, I believe, should be considered among one of the highest virtues of film viewing.

5. Black people were the heroes. Often it feels like it is easier to nominate a black person for an Academy Award when they are driving a white woman around, playing a corrupt cop, begging a white man to “make me feel good,” being a crazy dictator, a slave, and the list goes on. This is not to say that we haven’t been nominated for playing other roles, but more of the roles we are nominated for and win are the roles that find us either under someone or being over someone in the most animalistic way possible. Though Martin Luther King, Jr. is not without faults, he broke some ground for us and the narrative of his work continues to make ways for us–I will not get into the issue with the problem of the narrative right now. All of this to say that to see David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo clench the nomination for best actor/actress would have been a welcome respite from many years of being nominated for the same types of roles. I would prefer to see a King awarded over a Sniper.

So what now?

no_oscarI am a loyal viewer of the Academy Awards with a longstanding tradition of live updating during the show but this year I will not watch, tweet, or do anything that supports the Academy Awards because they don’t support me.  Do you realize how many white narratives the Academy has supported over the years? Sure some of those narratives were worth the awards but year after year that show is always more liable to stick to its own–even when their own does mediocre work at best rather than considering anyone else. And that’s the thing, why should our stories not be theirs too? Why must we be “othered” even when we are in the same industry? Their stories are told and credited as worthy of numerous accolades while we are lucky if we are nominated. More of us than not support their stories in addition to our own while they continue to just support their stories. Something’s got to give.

#nooscars

Selma Wasn’t Snubbed, It Just Is What It Is

Academy Award nominations were announced this morning and with it came headlines that Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” was snubbed. Before I knew of what and who was nominated I knew that “Selma” was snubbed so I nearly assumed that the movie didn’t get any nominations, yet that wasn’t the case. “Selma” received two nominations, one for Best Picture and another for Best Original Song. This is still significant and it looks like DuVernay thought enough of the nominations to symbolically gift them to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday.

Alas, everyone else is on the snubbed life and up in arms, but I wonder if this is the reaction we need for something that is par for the course. My title says, “It is what it is,” which is what I say when I decide to just accept something as it is.

2012 demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

More often than not black films, actors, directors, etc are snubbed more than they are nominated. It is to be expected given the demographics of  organizations such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. An organization that, despite its black female president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, boasts a predominantly white and over age 60 while male voting membership. It is what it is. Thus it makes me wonder if we need to stop looking for approval by way of these white men and their awards and just affirm ourselves–and also not snub the value of awards that come from black organizations such as the NAACP Image Awards and the like. Popular opinion–also usually the opinion of white people in positions of power–would have it that a nomination and award from the Hollywood Foreign Press and/or AMPAS is proof that we’ve arrived, but to set our sights on that approval as a sign of achievement is a disservice to ourselves. Reality is, we don’t need a Golden Globe or an Academy Award to know that we’ve arrived and done well. And we have to stop hoping for “them” to pat us on the back for telling our own stories. We are worth more than a piece of globe or man-shaped gold. We are history makers and we never needed an award to be the pioneers that we are.

Making history is what we do. We’ve gone from the people who were the victims in history to the people who are slowly carving out victory status in history–even while we are yet still victims. Whether we are making history for turning a hashtag into a movement that declares the value of black lives or because we directed great actors and actresses to retell our history through cinematic re-interpretation, we’ve never needed an award to advance and make known the power of our voices. Who we are seeking recognition from has to change.

10868235_10152520930666394_8485591587477188255_n

As a close friend said this morning, “Winning. #thatsall”

We don’t have another moment to hope someone will nominate us or throw us an award for work we already know is good. Not another moment to speak of a “snub,” how white the Oscar will be this year, how discriminatory the academy may be, nothing. I say this because I’m tired of us waiting for someone to acknowledge our greatness when it has always been inside us. We don’t need anyone to give us an award to know we are good. We may want the award but we really don’t need it and it really shouldn’t change anything in a world where the scales are rarely tipped in our favor. The biggest mistake we can make nowadays is to be fooled into believing we’ve been snubbed because the collective “they” didn’t recognize us. We aren’t being snubbed, they are snubbing themselves in failing to acknowledge us. We lose nothing, they are the ones missing out. “Selma” was not snubbed because no value was taken away from the film in not getting an Academy Award nomination. Ava DuVernay was doing incredible work before the Hollywood Foreign Press and AMPAS ever thought to nominate her and she will continue to do incredible work. The same goes for David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey, et al.

The greatness of our work doesn’t hinge on its acceptance by some board of old white men but in our confidence in our own work and its power to teach and transform our own community. I’ve seen more people talk about how “Selma” has convicted and moved them to action than anything else and I think that’s the best award.