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Gender & Sexuality Archive

Roundtable: Michelle O, Beauty, and the Strong Arm of the Media

Karima: Roland Martin hosted a very interesting conversation with four black female actors from TV and film, about the negative criticism Lady Obama receives on her style and body type. The discussion progressed ultimately to black


Roundtable: 8-Year-Olds in Padded Bras and Thongs, Really?! 

Nichole: Ladies, what do you think of Abercrombie & Fitch's decision to sell push up bikini tops to little girls? Other than, this is ridiculous. I read the recent New York Times profile of Miranda Cosgrove, which in describing tween girl stars'


Roundtable: Shaken By Sexual Violence

Lucinda: An 11-year-old girl is gang raped by a group of men and boys. It’s captured on cell phones. The authorities begin an investigation just after Thanksgiving, because one of the girl’s classmates tells a teacher about the video.


Gender & Sexuality



Entries by Karima (2)


Calling Foul on Homophobia in Black America

By Karima E. Rustin

During the second weekend of May, I read two articles in The New York Times in which two men, both highly visible and successful in their respective careers, made public that they are gay. There are very few commonalities between these two men, yet after reading both articles, I began feeling annoyed, not about their decision to openly discuss their sexual orientation (I commend them for that), but about the inevitable issue of homophobia in the black community.

Don Lemon, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and prime-time anchor on CNN, has written a memoir entitled Transparent. He initially wanted the book to be about his professional life but felt compelled to divulge details about his childhood and ultimately discuss his sexual orientation. Mr. Lemon believes that the black community would have a more adverse reaction to him revealing his sexual orientation than the general population. In his New York Times interview, Lemon states “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine..."

Rick Welts, the President and CEO of the basketball team the Phoenix Suns who has spent the majority of his adult life ensconced in basketball culture, decided that instead of waiting for his industry to be comfortable with his sexual orientation, he would make it public and encourage others to address the issue that envelops the court and boardroom—homophobia. Within 24 hours of Welts’ meeting with David Stern (commissioner for the National Basketball Association) to discuss his decision to go public, Kobe Bryant, the iconic guard of the Los Angeles Lakers and a black male, belligerently objected to a referee’s verdict of a technical foul by calling him a derogatory gay term. (Bryant later apologized after being fined $100,000.)

I was saddened to read about Lemon’s fear of being emasculated by his own race and fed up with hearing about a black athlete demonstrating blatant homophobia. Sports is where many young black males of limited economic means see their opportunity to achieve greatness, a chance to change their current economic circumstances and attain individual recognition.

The majority of the players in the NBA are people of color, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I believe there is a black cultural myth that the totality of your masculinity is made up from your sexual orientation, and being gay doesn’t equate with the current virile image of the professional basketball player. I worry about the young black gay kid who aspires to play ball and watches Bryant and other basketball players express an unwillingness to embrace a fellow teammate who happens to be gay. Four years ago former Miami Heat player Tim Hardaway let it be known that he hates gay people and would not want a gay man on his team.

Why black people struggle with homophobia baffles me. What are we so afraid of? Why does acknowledging differences in sexual orientation make so many of us uncomfortable? We must debunk this idea that to be a man means you can only be heterosexual. I would like to see more black people supporting men like Lemon who choose to come out publicly and condemning the use of gay slurs. Men like Lemon and Welts might need to make us uncomfortable in order for us to start addressing our unwillingness to accept people of different sexual orientations.


Roundtable: Michelle O, Beauty, and the Strong Arm of the Media

Karima: Roland Martin hosted a very interesting conversation with four black female actors from TV and film, about the negative criticism Lady Obama receives on her style and body type. The discussion progressed ultimately to black content and images in movies and television and how they're showcased, packaged and presented to the public. My question: is there criticism because Mrs. Obama is a brown-skinned lady built like the typical black woman, the type of black beauty white America quite frankly has not been interested in or is it because she exudes a sensuality that hasn’t been present in the White House since Jackie Kennedy and that is why the first lady is catching so much grief?

Lydia: Honestly, I couldn't bring myself to watch the Limbaugh video and haven't yet watched the Martin clip but I think the connection to Jackie is clear. I don't know that that is the only reason for the criticism. I think it goes hand-in-hand with the some of the primary reasons critics find the need to emasculate her husband-- they are the first black First Lady and President of the United States. Critics try to hit a woman where they think it will hurt most, her body, sense of style, etc. It's also true that the typical black woman's build doesn't fit into what mainstream America says is ideal.

Sheryl: Karima, I think the connection you make between Michelle Obama and Jackie Kennedy is a good one. Like Mrs. Obama today, Jackie Kennedy exuded a youth, vibrancy and sensuality that is not often seen in the White House, and people may be uncomfortable with that image. However, I wouldn’t say that has anything to do with the comments made by Rush Limbaugh. Mr. Limbaugh’s comments are all about race-baiting; that is what he specializes in. In this diatribe, I think he is really telling his mainly white audience—this black woman is not just a concerned parent like you; she is trying to take away your freedom.

The women on the panel bring up the lack of black female images on television; I don’t think I would place as much emphasis on that point either. Tatyana Ali brought up a good point when she connected the critical comments to Mrs. Obama as “the other.” As Lydia mentions, the reason the stories have persisted that President Obama is a Muslim, he is not an American-born citizen, and on and on, is the same reason that Mrs. Obama’s is targeted; as a woman, her appearance is the lowest hanging fruit. If her arms were a bit fleshy (and they aren't), what woman in her forties would not be able to identify? In the end, the Obamas are a black couple in the White House and painting them as different in any way is an effective way for their opponents to tear them down.