There is an interesting conversation happening at Racialicious, which was inspired by this post about racist criticisms of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Four out of the five “Real Housewives” in that cast are black, and, as Tami says:
A foray into online coverage, blogs and TV forums like the ones on Television Without Pity will uncover frequent use of the word “ghetto” and “hood,” references to this or that housewife looking “like a man,” hints that the housewives are high-classed “hos”–promiscuous, scheming she-devils hot on the trail of big money, snark about big booties, talk of how the women are embarrassing black folks.
So, Tami explores the Atlanta Housewives’ behavior within the context of the entire “Real Housewives” franchise. The white women from the O.C., New York and New Jersey are just as “bullying, narcissistic, back-stabbing, money-grubbing, cliquey, disloyal, arrogant, self-involved, willfully ignorant, poorly spoken, wasteful and tackily nouveau riche” as the black women of Atlanta. But they are not judged as white women. They exemplify some of the worst nasty stereotypes about women, but they are not held up as representative of white women. When people see the Atlanta Housewives acting poorly, they see race in addition to sex, and they incorporate that into their critiques.
Tami’s expands upon that in her more recent post, describing how she feels about the burden of representing her race and acting as an ambassador for the black community to the mainstream (i.e. white) world. Both of Tami’s posts, and the comments, are worth reading. She concludes that policing the behavior of other black people is a losing game. But I understand the impulse. I cringe when other women confirm negative stereotypes about my sex. And I hesitate, sometimes, to say or do things that are allegedly “typical” of women – such as asking a “stupid” question in math class. But I am generally free to be myself without worrying that my behavior will reflect poorly on all white people. My race privilege protects me from that.
The whole “credit to your race” conversation reminded me of BFP’s post at flip flopping joy, in which she writes about the politics of taking up space. BFP describes the anxiety she feels, as WOC, when she sees her young daughter unselfconsciously taking up public space. The little girl hasn’t yet learned she’s not entitled to it, has to earn it, has to work really hard to deserve it, as a child and later as a woman of color. It’s a powerful piece of writing and I’ve thought about it numerous times since I first read it months ago.
Marginalized bodies are navigating a world that would just as soon erase them (us) completely. A lot of us waffle between asserting our right to take up space and erasing ourselves for the benefit of the mainstream.
Am I reinforcing people’s opinions about fat people, about female people, about people with disabilities, about black male people…?
“The nation/state has us trained, and it doesn’t need to act as a regulator any more,” as BFP put it. I’m going to end there before I just quote the entire post. Something to think about, and talk about.