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Employment Law Tip of the Day: Want to create a company policy that will ensure all your personnel decisions are fraught with racism, sexism, ablism, ageism, gender normativity, and size discrimination? Try rating your employee’s looks on a scale of zero to five, and put the ones who don’t conform to an “all-American, clean, wholesome, or the girl or boy next door” look in the back room folding clothes where they are unable to disgust customers and dilute your brand image with their nonconforming presentations.

Just like Abercrombie & Fitch did!

Make sure that you claim, loudly and often, that you are working on diversity, by providing managers with a “look book” of appropriate faces that include Black, white, and Latino/as. You know, all the races! When somebody points out that you have no Asian faces in your look book or in your marketing campaigns, just point out that for some reason, Asians just don’t like A&F so hiring and marketing to that demographic just doesn’t make good business sense.

Michelle Obama Watch

Gina at What About Our Daughters has taken Michelle Obama Watch life, and she’s looking for contributors!

If you use WordPress, you can add the RSS feed to Michelle Obama Watch on your side bar. It’s in the Dashboard under “Design” and then “Widgets.”

I know I’m not the boss of you, but when you have a moment, and if you feel like it, consider reading Fat Black Women Let’s Go There from one of my new favorite blogs, Womanist Musings:

I came across a post over at Nubian Fitness Goddess, entitled “I’m Thick!!” Are Black Women in Denial About Their Health. At first she goes through the descriptors “thick” and “F.A.T” (Fabulous and Fat) to discuss black women that are considered obese. Apparently it is okay to accept these terms as long as you are attempting to do something about your “excess weight”. Loving yourself for who you are is somehow impossible, if your body is encased in a lump fat. Think about loving the body you will/should have, versus the body you currently inhabit. We all must openly acknowledge the health concerns of carrying excess weight. Yes I know, diabetes, strokes, etc are risks however, why must we constantly acknowledge this to make skinny people satisfied that we find our selves contemptible? Confess, Confess you twinkie eating fatty…Skinny= Good, Fat = Bad, and everyone knows it. Quick ,say 20 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers for absolution. How dare you have any kind of self esteem while you are shoving an extra large pizza down your throat, cause you know all of us fatties are constantly binge eating, ignoring the health risks. How do we even sleep at night with that threat hanging over our head

I also like really Renee’s responses to the comments on that piece.

I’ve gone back and forth over who I support in the primaries. I voted for Obama and then spent the next month wishing I’d voted for Clinton (not that it would make a difference in Illinois, but still). Now at the end, I think I made the right choice. I would also classify myself as someone who, as Melissa described, “voted for Obama in the primary, who [has] watched with horror the seething hatred directed at Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman.”

So congratulations to Barack Obama. I’m glad the stupid primaries are over and I am facing the coming months of campaigning with fear and dread and, under it all, a glimmering kernel of hope that all this talk of change is more than rhetoric. Now I am way too cynical to think Obama is going to take office and socialize our health care system, pass the ERA, codify reproductive justice into federal law, grant equal rights under the law to non-hetero couples, and strengthen Title VII or anything. But I’m hoping things will at least be better once he’s in office.

I’m editing this to add something important, that I know but that somehow (ummm) failed to really hit me until just now. Lauren at Stereohyped says it better:

While I was well aware of the historical nature of the campaign, the full weight of it didn’t truly hit me until last night, because I didn’t really allow myself to believe that in this country that I grew up in, this country that I know and love and hate and could not live without, that something like this was possible. We have a black, major-party nominee for president. And if he plays his cards right and voters step up to the plate, he could also become president. There are few black Americans, especially older black Americans, who were idealistic enough to fully believe (and not just hope) that this could happen in their lifetimes without seeing it first with their own eyes. Barack Obama was one of them.

Holy fucking shit people. We have a black, major-party nominee for president. Knowing myself as I do, this probably still won’t totally hit me until I’m doing laundry tomorrow night at which point I will have a tearful, all-to-public realization of the momentousness of the occasion in the damn laundromat.

What I really want to say right now, though, is that I am with Cheryl Lynn when it comes to Michelle Obama: “‘Chelle could call me at two o’clock in the morning and ask me to roll on a bitch and I would calmly pull out my sneakers and Vaseline.”* I am a FAN of Michelle Obama. I am hoping that she becomes friends with Hillary Clinton, learns a few tricks, hits the senate (Come be my senator! I will campaign for you!) and runs for president in 2020.

And I’m so not looking forward to what the media and the Republican party (and some bitter racist Democrats) are going to try to do to this woman from now until November. For shit’s sake, look at just one way so-called “allies” have treated Michelle Obama before now. Two coworkers, when discussing Barack Obama’s campaign around the Illinois primaries made it a point to stress how little they trusted Michelle. When I asked them why, they answered that they thought she was scheming, and that it was her greedy desire for a larger house that forced poor Barack into a potentially shady land deal with Tony Rezko. And I don’t even want to get into what my staunchly democratic grandparents, who have a framed picture of FDR on their wall and who were two of the biggest Hillary Clinton supports on this planet have said about Michelle because it makes me sick to my stomach and more than a little bit depressed. And that’s just a tiny bit of what I, a privileged white woman who has worked hard to limit her exposure to assholes and bigots as much as possible, have experienced first hand.

There’s a storm coming. And it’s going to be ugly.

Racialicious has a preview today in a post by Tami from What Tami Said entitled Michelle Obama: Aint’ She a Woman?

Michelle Obama seems not to inspire the fealty among mainstream women that Hillary Clinton does. Over at the blog Hillary is 44, which has very vocal about suspected sexism directed at the first viable female candidate for president, a screed was recently posted entitled “God damn Michelle Obama.”

Obama wants his lantern jawed wife to be “off-limits”. Michelle apparently is the only spouse to get such special treatment. It was Michelle of course that debased herself by trying to dredge past right-wing attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton. It was the Obama campaign that circulated anonymous memos attacking spouse Bill Clinton.

Lantern-jawed? It is sooo feminist to attack a woman based on her appearance. It’s a safe bet that the proud women at Hillary is 44 won’t be speaking out about how press, pundits and even some progressive bloggers have painted Michelle Obama as the stereotypical domineering black woman–a two-fer sexist and racist label.

Tami ends the piece with an admonition that all bloggers who self-identify as feminist MUST HEED if we are going to make any progress toward justice:

Mainstream feminists have been extremely vocal about the gender bias that has dogged Hillary Clinton since she appeared on the national stage. They rightly realized that sexism against the former First Lady and current Senator is just an example of the way society views ALL women. So, why are so many women standing silent, and worse, abetting the demonization of another woman of substance?

Shakesville kept up with the misogynistic attacks on Clinton with the Hillary Sexism Watch. Now, What About Our Daughters is taking it a necessary step further and starting a dedicated blog to monitor the situation:

Volunteer Michelle Media Monitors
This whole infamous tape stuff is just a sliver of what Michelle Obama is going to face in the media. So because I predict getting a flurry of emails from now until November, I am going to be proactive and start a separate Michelle Obama blog to track every article, blog post, youtube clip that pops up and provide you an opportunity to respond. Because if the past is any indicator, the campaign has no problem with her being turned into a verbal punching bag, I DO! IF you want to volunteer and want to post updates on the blog, send an email to the gmail account in the right sidebar. Its going to be a LONG hot SUMMER!

Whether you support her husband or not. Let’s be clear, any and every Black woman that walks in her footsteps can expect the same treatment so we might as well pull a Gandolf, draw a line in the stand and yell “THOU SHALL NOT PASS!” This ain’t about Barack, its about every professional Black woman that has had to smile on the days she didn’t want to for fear of being labeled ANGRY.

So keep your eyes open, and stay loud.

*I’m not entirely sure what the Vaseline is for, but I have some and would totally bring it along if M. Obama asked me to!

ETA: OKAY in the comments, MayDarling kindly explained:

If you’re going “roll on a bitch” ie, fight a girl, you put vaseline on your face so when said bitch tries to scratch you; instead of grabbing onto skin, she gets nails full of grease. Mainly just to keep your pretty face from being scarred from cat-fight scratches.

And, you know, I don’t want to put Vaseline on my face OR fight women so I guess Cheryl Lynn’s metaphor is not entirely apt for me, but the underly sentiment of support still stands.

You know those days when you wake up and think, “I just can’t do this today. I can’t take one more day as a walking, talking fat-bodied political statement and I can’t cope with the misogyny and racism and ablism and homophobia and transphobia and capitalism and hate and greed and pollution and noise and assholes because it’s hopeless and we can never change anything ever”? I have those days sometimes. But from now on, instead of despairing,* I will call those times Teaspoon Days:


KNEEL BEFORE THE POWER CARDIGAN

Thanks to Melissa for the concept and Faith for the execution. And how pants-wettingly great is it going to be the first time I’m out and about and run into some other awesome person wearing a teaspoon? Because I’ll know that whatever I’m feeling, be it despair or the will to keep on fighting, I am not alone.

*Okay, I will probably despair some, too, but whatever this jewelry can’t fix, I will treat with beer.

Racialicious posted a great piece, originally published on Guanabee, by Alex Alvarez called Body Language: How Nicknames Objectify Minority Women And Why I Don’t Care “How You Meant It.” It explores the relationship between culture, language, and women’s bodies, which is a complicated topic (like doctoral thesis complicated) that Alvarez does a nice job on, despite the small space:

“Gordo/a,” “gordito/a,” “flaco/a” and “flaquito/a” are also quite common. Quite literally, they mean “(little) fatty” or “(little) skinny.” Take the Univision TV series “El Gordo y La Flaca,” . . . starring Raul de Molina and Lily Estefan. . . . On a personal note, I cannot tell you how much I wished my parents would have called me “sweetie” or “pumpkin” instead of “my little fatty.” Kinda stings when you’re going through puberty. To have complained about this, of course, would make me seem like an “acomplejada,” or like I had a complex about my weight and appearance. Which would have been pretty much exactly on the money. Growing up, I had always noted the difference between my family’s lack of barriers and delineations when it came to discussing bodies, particularly women’s, and the unspoken barriers among Anglo families on TV. And perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all this is that my family member didn’t mean anything by it. They weren’t actively try to make me aware of my body. They loved their gordita, after all. But, growing up in an increasingly multi-cultural world, I was exposed to different ethnicities’ relationships to their and others’ bodies. And I would have really preferred that verbal distance between my body and the world around it. Acomplejada as that makes me.

Such physically-conscious nicknames reduce the object to nothing but a body and, while innocuous to some, they are wrought with (somewhat) unspoken criticism, even if only in the sense that it makes one aware of their weight and form each and every time one stops to think about their nickname. Particularly for females.

Now go read the whole thing and come back here so I can tell you something.

My coworker, who is South East Asian (I am being intentionally vague here again; I know that SE Asian is not a monolithic cultural entity), and I were talking about cultural approaches to women’s bodies yesterday. She told me that where she is from, it is perfectly acceptable for friends and family to approach women and remark about how much weight they’ve gained, the some way one might comment about a new hair style or a new pair of shoes. From my experience, although close interfamilial relationships are fraught with weight and body-related land mines, family friends and distant relatives generally have the tact to avoid inquiring about any recent weight gain.

The fact that I equate keeping a sock in it about my weight with tact is pretty telling, no?

I will be seeing a good chunk of my family, and probably a vast selection of my in laws, at some point this summer. While my small immediate family is fairly accustomed to their incredible shrinking and then growing and then shrinking and then growing again relative, I so rarely see my extended family that for all I know, they’ve only ever seen me fat. Or skinny.* While I feel fairly confident that my reserved (we’re Presbyterians, for shit’s sake) white upbringing will render weight-related comments verboten, I am nervous about incurring their unspoken judgment. In my “grass is greener” moments, I sort of wish that at the next massive extended family dinner, my relatives would just comment about my weight, and get the topic out there. I even have a response all worked out:

“Yes, I have gained weight! Quite a bit. My husband and I both have great jobs and are living comfortably, so we’re able to eat really, really well. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Then I would laugh all the way back through the buffet line.

*True story: I went back to my (rural, small) hometown area for my (step)grandmother’s funeral five or six years ago. I was thinner than usual (about an 8, I think) and was dying my hair dark brown at the time. I stood in the receiving line, and after the tenth or so bereaved individual walked past me in without so much as a word of condolence, I entreated my mother for explanation (or just the dispensation to get out of the damn line and go sit down) and she told me that this parade of great aunts and uncles, shirt-tail cousins, and lifelong community acquaintances did not recognize me as a granddaughter, and instead assumed I was my serial monogamist cousin’s most recent girlfriend. This realization that I was a stranger to my own people failed to spark any urge to “get to know my roots,” FYI. I also felt really badly for the cousin’s actual girlfriend, who was in attendance although not in the receiving line, and so was being roundly disregarded by an entire community while being allowed to remain in a seated position. They have since split up.

Hey Chicagoans – don’t pass up the chance to see official excerpts from still black: a portrait of black transmen, playing this weekend at Northwestern University, The Center on Halsted, and Columbia College. More info at blac (k) ademic and the official film website. I’m excited!

ETA some more links.

What the fucking fuckity fuck fuck fuck.

God DAMN it! I am angry, and ashamed, and so, so disappointed. And I would like to take this moment to echo Black Amazon and say: Fuck Seal Press.

Listen. I won’t give up on feminism. I can’t. Feminism, as a philosophy, as a focus, as a fundamental part of my identity, saved my life. Sometimes the passion I feel for feminism as a way of living burns so hot in me that I can’t sleep at night for the excitement. Sometimes I can’t sleep for the grief, or for the despair, but feminism as a philosophy, as a focus, as a fundamental part of my identity gives me hope to keep on trying.

But I won’t stand behind feminists like Amanda Marcotte and the folks at Seal Press. That is not the feminism that I want to be a part of.

Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations and best wishes to What About Our Daughters. Here’s to many more years of “uncompromising, unapologetic, and unbowed defense of Black women and girls.” Thanks, Gina, for keeping me informed and aware and always refusing to back down or be silenced.

Lauren Williams at Stereohyped linked to a story on NPR that asks whether “fatism” is indeed more widespread than racism:

A new report in the current issue of the International Journal of Obesity suggests that weight discrimination is on the rise.

“Overweight women are twice as vulnerable as men, and discrimination strikes much earlier in their lives,” the report states.

The reason used by some to justify the bias: weight is modifiable, race isn’t.

So does this reasoning have any merit? If you believe that weight is modifiable, it seems like it would. But I call bullshit.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that weight is modifiable. Take me for example. When I was 17 I started my first “successful” diet and lost 60 pounds; I’ve not stayed at a stable weight since. For almost 20 years I have been either losing or gaining weight, living in a state of constant weight (and wardrobe) fluctuation. So, is weight modifiable? Mine sure is. I don’t even know if my body has a set point, much what that set point could be because I’ve never given my body a chance to find it. Now that my brain has decided that being fat is okay, I am both fascinated and terrified to see what my body ultimately makes of this information. But that’s beside the point, which is that sure, technically weight is modifiable.

But it’s not modifiable in any controllable way. I can set my sights on a particular weight and throw all my energy into getting there and maybe I will, but probably not (in all of my weight’s amazing malleability I have never achieved a “goal weight”). Even if I get close, I have proven time and time (and time and time) again that any weight below 200 pounds is unmaintainable for me without untenable sacrifice. Modifying my weight is less about a precision manipulation and more about setting forces in motion and hoping for the best. So how modifiable is something that we can change, but only with intense effort and never permanently and never in a focused and specific way? Not fucking very.

But even if weight is arguably modifiable, even in a grossly imprecise way, the modifiability justification falls short. Under US law, deafness is a disability and discriminating on the basis of deafness is illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But deafness is also modifiable in some instances with cochlear implants. Should it be legal to refuse to make a reasonable accommodation for a deaf employee who is eligible for a cochlear implant but refuses to get one? Religion is a protected class under Title VII, making it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of religion. But religion, as important is it is to many people, is not a genetic trait and so is 100% modifiable. If scientists suddenly discovered a quick and easy gene “therapy” that would change a person’s race, should racial discrimination suddenly become legally acceptable? Relying on modifiability as a justification for weight-based discrimination is convenient, but ultimately unsatisfactory.

Not to mention that the underlying legal philosophy used to justify the bias basically says “Here is an acceptable way to be. You don’t have to be this way, but if you chose not to be, you have to face the consequences.” Who is defining acceptable? And how are they defining it? And who died and made them boss, anyway? What we end up with is anti-discrimination law as a tool of social control – conform or you’re fired, fatty.

But not only is this whole “if you can change it, we can discriminate against you for it” explanation pretty bogus, as Tara at Fatshionista explains, this line of thinking (and the report Lauren linked) fails to consider the complex intersectionalities at play here too. Lauren addresses this at the end of her post when she asks: What if you’re black, a woman, and obese?

Despite the assumptions underlying Title VII and related case law (very little of which was written or interpreted by non-white non-men (I don’t know how many of these white dudes were fat, though)), apportioning discrimination neatly into buckets labeled “gender,” “race,” “color,” “nationality,” or “religion” is impossible. Generally under US law, if you are a black woman who is passed over for promotion in favor of white women and black men, you’re SOL; the employer promoted other women and the employer promoted other black men so under the law? No actionable discrimination. When a report like this suggests (or when the media interprets a report like this to suggest) that “fatism” is more widespread than racism, it is saying that it’s possible to cleave fatness away from race, to say definitively that if an employer discriminatorily fires a fat black woman, it’s because she’s black. Or fat. Or a woman. But not some combination of the three. Consider fat and disability in the same framework. Is an employer illegally refusing to make a reasonable accommodation under the ADA if it could cheaply widen an existing ramp door to allow a fat person who needs a large size wheelchair to access the building but refuses to do so?

Is there a point at which the modifiability justification and the shortcomings of anti-discrimination laws at addressing intersectionalities come together? I was hoping to find that when I started writing but it’s getting late and I’m not there yet so I open up to you, dear readers. I think this is an important conversation to have. I chose to post about this here instead of commenting on Stereohyped because I wanted to think about this using FA principals as a given rather than getting bogged down in “fat is unhealthy/losing weight is easy and awesome” debate and, ultimately, not getting anywhere new.

ETA: I was fixin’ to climb into a nice warm bed with a nice warm dude and two nice warm cats when it occurred to me that I should make a very important clarification. I AM NOT asking whether “fatism” is more prevalent than racism. That question, in the parlance of the internet, is made of fail. I am talking about modifiability as bias justification and intersectionality. I also don’t mean to limit the discussion to race, gender, or disability – that’s just what came out when I started typing. Okay go.

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