'Fat Butt' Frenzy: WashPost Indicts Football Coach, Rush Limbaugh for Racist Insults of Mrs. Obama, Black Womanhood

The Washington Post is suggesting Tuesday that it's somehow national news that a high-school football coach in northern Alabama was caught on tape mocking Michelle Obama for having a "fat butt."

Post reporter Krissah Thompson used this mini-story -- football coach secretly recorded by students who apparently want him fired, and he's already been suspended -- to remind people that Rush Limbaugh and Rep. James Sensenbrenner have also mocked the First Lady's rear end, and this means our "country of white people" are "not showing adequate respect for and devaluing the bodies of black women." Unsurprisingly, then the Post connects this to "historical antecedents" in slave times:

But what is it with Michelle Obama’s critics and the fixation with her derriere?

“We have a history in this country of white people not showing adequate respect for and devaluing the bodies of black women, and this most definitely falls in line with that,” says Ayana Byrd, the co-editor of the anthology “Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips and Other Parts.” (Grisham, Limbaugh and Sensenbrenner are white men.)

The focus on this first lady’s posterior has historical antecedents. It reaches back to the imagery of Hottentot Venus, a woman from what is now South Africa whose naked body and pronounced posterior were paraded in shows throughout 19th-century Europe. On to the selling and trading of black women’s bodies through slavery. In modern times, black women’s figures continue to be up for public discussion in ways that are celebratory (see:  "Brick House" by The Commodores) and insulting (see above).

Michelle Obama — who is 5-foot-11 and praised for her fashion sense, her bangs and her toned biceps — regularly emerges in polls as one of the most popular public figures in the country. (The White House does not discuss her weight.) She has graced magazine covers from Vogue to Better Homes & Gardens. Women’s health magazines have created workouts to help other women get “Michelle Obama arms.”

Her presence as first lady challenges the historic view of a black woman’s place and notions of beauty, says Michaela Angela Davis, a fashion expert who has campaigned for more positive images of black women in the media. “Michelle is black from a distance. She’s a real black girl,” Davis says. “A lot of people have tried to make diversity into this weird beige thing. Her presence is just really powerful to interject into the global consciousness.”

The first lady’s critics “are reacting to the culture in which they’ve grown up or they are using it as a code to racialize Michelle Obama and remind people that she’s black,” says Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University. “It is unreasonable to expect a nearly 50-year-old woman to have the body of a 25-year-old. She looks great for her age.”

Thompson and the Post left out why some students may have been seeking the coach's ouster -- he denounced "queers." It's quite possible The Washington Post was borrowing this from The Huffington Post.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis