THE BLOG
07/02/2010 02:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Open Letter to Kathleen Parker: You Went There

The title of your Washington Post column from Wednesday ("Obama: Our first female president," 6.30.10) was a bit misleading at first glance. Before clicking into it, one could easily think: "Ok, Michelle as our first female president - interesting." After all, that's not such an unrealistic concept. She's sharp. Capable. Rhetorically skilled. Not displeasing to the eye, maintaining a good physique (and arms to bat). With her Ivy League credentials in hand, mixed with both legal and executive experience, I could see that. If Bill was Hillary's ultimate prop for 2008, then what's holding Michelle back from taking advantage of her husband's political attributes, right? Traveling on White House dime affords her foreign policy expertise, too. Have at it.

But, you went there with this latest piece. Venturing into dangerous territory and fanning the flames of an unspeakable insult. In essence: those were fighting words.

You wouldn't know about that, though. A casual stroll through any major urban center would school you on common rules and codes of etiquette. At least, where I'm from, calling a dude a "female" - which you gleefully did while hiding behind the prestige of The Post - is no different from calling him a few other choice, sexually-charged and dehumanizing terms to his face. I've actually witnessed moments of extreme violence following the exchange of gender-switching insults. You were so far ahead of yourself, I was surprised you didn't just finish it, pulling out the word many talking heads claim they don't want to use, but privately wish they could. Saying "N-word" instead is your out, mass media's concerted attempt to, as comedian Louis C.K. bravely opined "... get away with it."

This is rather unprecedented in modern political history, as far as we can tell. Calling an American President outside of his gender as a way to diminish his political capital. We haven't seen any White male Presidents suffer the indignity. Not only is Obama the first Black President, but he's now the first President to undergo a partisan-driven sex change. And, so it starts: "Joker" face picket signs at Tea Party rallies will be replaced by images of Obama in drag. Derisively fashionable and abhorrently offensive "Hitler" mustaches will be complimented by Cover Girl enhancements.

Interestingly enough, we wonder what you'd call the President if he were too loud. Which is one of the reasons he probably holds back on the passion he is perceived as lacking. There's an instinctive fear that if he were aggressive in the bully pulpit he'd be labeled "angry" or "unreasonable." "Acting out."

He'd be "... too black."

Either way he goes, it's a no-win situation.

The real problem is not so much your choice of anti-machismo in defining the President, it's the fact that it's being done at the expense of a Black male President. Despite your open and, frankly, confounding gestations about Toni Morrison's reference to Bill Clinton as the "first Black president" (as if Obama is not?), you fail to see how deep the pen goes. This country has a very sordid, horror movie-like history of castrating Black men. We've been fighting this war for quite some time now. Struggling to regain and salvage our masculinity. It's why Jesse Jackson underwent severe community exile after being caught on tape snipping away at Candidate Obama's manhood - any self-respecting Black man from the South would know better. If we haven't been incarcerated or haven't populated the world's largest prison system, we've been whipped, chained and cut off from whole families. If we haven't been left permanently unemployed and unable to provide as head of household, then we've found many of our ancestors brutally murdered and castrated by angry lynch mobs of armed White men. You understand now why some of us "overly sensitive" people of color get a bit anxious watching angry White men brandishing assault rifles at Tea Party rallies. Excuse us for having collective post-trauma flashbacks and a natural tendency to not want history repeating itself.

But, you wouldn't know about that while eager to drop sophomoric Sex in the City metaphors. Everything is funny, just like conservatives painting the President's face white is all in jest, right? This is not Clarence Thomas' lynching circa-1991; this is 21st century castration, ensuring yet another generation of embattled Black boys find little inspiration in the tale of someone who looks like them defeating odds and achieving limitless possibilities. And it's not just the President. It's the continued movement to debase and stereotype African American males, to make them much less threatening. To put them in prison or to bombard them with images of the effeminate Black male as normal. These days, cable programming mixed with tongue-in-cheek covers far more ground than rabid lynch mobs. Racial profiling, patterns of neglect and broken school systems provide constant ammunition. Columns, like yours, offer abundant cover.

-- CHARLES D. ELLISON

(originally published in Politic365.com)

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