I’ve been working to kick my heavy diet of mainstream media programming. That said, when we started seeing a race between either the first woman or first black presidential candidate, I fell off the wagon. It’s the electronic version of my on-again/off-again love affair with cigarettes. However, unlike my butts, which mostly feel good when I’m having one, much of the programming on TV makes me feel bad. Bad in general because of incessant fluff interspersed with rampant stereotyping, and particularly bad with racial potshots in the news regarding the Obamas.
Fox News is among the worst. You gotta love network hacks who can refer to a presidential candidate’s wife as a “baby mama,” a term generally reserved for women who have babies with men who were never (and continue not to be) suitable for marriage. If she was a jobless drug-head, I might have let it pass. But when talking about a woman with an Ivy League education and impeccable professional credentials, running “baby mama” across the TV screen while you discuss her seems blatantly racist.
Yes, I know Fox apologized for what it called "poor judgment." But these are the same folks who replayed ad nauseam an out-of-context soundbite from Reverend Jeremiah Wright for days, to bring Barack Obama down. And the same folks who speculated that Barack and Michelle’s friendly “fist bump” was a “terrorist fist jab.” Apologies from people like that ring hollow after a while.
But back to the “baby mama” stuff. This was originally a term bandied about in minority neighborhoods well over a decade ago that made its way into mainstream lexicon thanks to comedians like Chris Rock and trashy daytime talk shows. When hosts like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer talked about baby mamas, they were typically unkempt African-American or Latino women with multiple kids. As with many urban terms, it became part of the mainstream culture. Now we even have a movie called Baby Mama with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. As the term has evolved, it’s begun to be used with celebrities, such as Britney Spears and Jamie Lynn Spears.
But the baby mama jab at the Spears sisters and others like them is typically a swipe at their class. It’s a way of saying to the world that these aren’t pregnant celebrities but instead are rich white trash — women who wouldn’t be celebrities if not for a narrow talent or two and a lot of luck. They are perceived as still having at least one foot firmly in the metaphorical trailer park even as they count their millions. That’s classism.
That angers me, because despite my attention to race, it’s class issues that are truly at the root of most cultural-relations problems in America.
Here’s what makes me even more pissed about the "baby mama" comment with Michelle Obama. If “baby mama” is enough in the mainstream to be used for famous white women who get pregnant in questionable relationships and don’t really have a lot of education or previous advantages in life, what does it say when we start feeling like we can call Michelle Obama a baby mama?
What it says to me — and this is where class and race intersect — is that simply because Michelle Obama is black, we can disregard all her hard work and education and accomplishments and contributions and automatically reduce her class status to “ghetto.”
Because if it weren’t about discrimination, why aren’t people in the media rolling out comments that Cindy McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate’s wife, is an ex-junkie, stealer of cookie recipes, and husband snatcher?
Shay Stewart-Bouley can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.