"Why are Black women fat?" "Why are Black men in jail?" "Why can’t Black women find 'good Black men?'"
Miserable questions that provide no path to answers—but offer broad sweeping generalizations in their stead—have put a lot of money in the pockets of writers, bloggers (that’s not redundant; not every member of the latter group can rightly be described as the former) and anyone else who profits off the lucrative “Inherent Deficiency Industry.” Yes, I just made that up. Yes, it is is a real thing.
The IDI refers to those who bank off of the notion that X group of people is forever doomed to suffer Y problem. They respond to the need for solutions with magic beans and bothersome hypotheses and rom-coms and books and many, many microscopes under which groups of people (Blacks, poor folks, gays, fat people…pretty much anyone except for able-bodied, healthy, straight and upwardly mobile White men) are miserably scrutinized.
The latest offender: Alice Randall’s article for the New York Times, "Why Black Women are Fat" (Note: the title of the piece has since been changed to "Black Women and Fat.") The aughts and early '10s have been filled with writings designed to help The World understand just what in the hell is wrong with Black Women. Because, you see, we sisters are an entirely separate entity from the rest of civilization. Our problems are always tied to the unique condition that is being Black and female and we are so fascinating, so curious to The World, that they just can’t help but to grab the popcorn and the Dasani and peer closely into the cage that separates us from them.
…but don’t let them snacks get too close to the railing, lest one of us hop up and bite off your finger. Why? Because we’re fat. All of us. All the Black women are fat. That’s what the article said. “Why Black Women Are Fat.” Not “Why a Disproportionate Number of Black Women Suffer From Obesity”—because fat is kind of subjective, no? Nope. We’re all fat. Me, you, your mama and your cousin, too.
But considering that the vast majority of the New York Times readership comes from The World, not Black Womanlandia, the alleged explanation as to why ALL BLACK WOMEN ARE SO FATTY FAT FAT comes with another bitter taste: this isn’t a breakdown of issues that may be so close to Black women’s homes that we fail to recognize them as problematic. This is the microscope, the magnifying glass, the “Black Women for Dummies” breakdowns that are enough to drive a sister mad. It’s like, “Hello there, Jill Whitefolks, Joseph Caucasianus and Asian Ann. Have you wondered why all the Black women on your train car today were totally Fatty McFatpants? Well, allow me to draw back the curtain on what’s good in the ‘hood.”
From the article:
"How many middle-aged white women fear their husbands will find them less attractive if their weight drops to less than 200 pounds? I have yet to meet one. But I know many black women whose sane, handsome, successful husbands worry when their women start losing weight. My lawyer husband is one.
First of all, everyone reading this just had their head explode because BLACK WOMEN DON’T HAVE HUSBANDS, duh. The media told us this long ago.
“And it’s not only aesthetics that make black fat different. It’s politics too…. (in)Andrea Elizabeth Shaw’s provocative book “The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies.” Ms. Shaw argues that the fat black woman’s body “functions as a site of resistance to both gendered and racialized oppression.” By contextualizing fatness within the African diaspora, she invites us to notice that the fat black woman can be a rounded opposite of the fit black slave, that the fatness of black women has often functioned as both explicit political statement and active political resistance.”
This is it. These are the only two reasons she got. Our men like us big and we are resisting the fitness that was imposed upon us during slavery.
I genuinely enjoyed Alice Randall’s latest novel, Ada’s Rules. In it, she does occasionally toe the line of explaining why Black people struggle with certain issues (debt and weight primarily) and using generalizations that ignore the many nuances that factor into our challenges, just as they do in the lives of The World. I’m not angry at her for that in the book, nor in this article. But I do wonder to what level our feelings of connection to our fellow brothers and sisters make us forget just how different and unique our Black experiences can be.
I do also wish that if we must hold up a mirror to Blackness constantly in the audience of others so that they may observe us (or so they can observe us observing ourselves), that we made these displays a bit more productive and beneficial to the community-at-large. Instead of speaking out on the dating woes of Black women or why we can’t just lose that last 115 extra pounds, why not talk about the systematic challenges that make it difficult for Black women to access health care—a huge factor in our obesity crisis—or how to combat our lack of easy access to healthy options in the “food deserts” many of us call home? What about depression? Where is the talk of depression?!?
Where’s my critical beatdown from a race scholar –“Why White People Are Racist”? The Times don’t wanna go there? Where’s “Why Black People Can’t Find Jobs?” Where’s “How the Prison Industrial Complex—and Not Bad Attitudes and Over-Achieving—Keeps Black Women Single?” I won’t hold my breath, as I am sure “Why Black Women Are Sassy,” “Why Black Men Are Violent” and “Why Black Rappers Are From Brooklyn” will emerge sooner than anything I could deem worth the Times’ time. The Inherent Deficiency Industry is just making way too much money to change the game. Hey, maybe our next romantic comedy hit will be Why Black Women Are Fat or Think Like a Fat Woman, Act Like a Thin One and we can get the two White guys who wrote Friends with Benefits to do the screenplay and take Hollywood by storm once again!
Meanwhile, we writers have to stop holding up our unique experiences as the truth for all Black people and we certainly need to chill on doing that for ‘mainstream’ media outlets. Alice Randall’s husband wants her to stay chunky, but what about Alice Wallace of St. Louis who feels like her weight has kept her single for years? Or Alice Jenkins of Tampa who can’t gain an extra pound to save her life? Or Alice Russell of Boston who has never had an issue with weight one way or another? Did they just get kicked out of Blackness? No fair, Alice Randall, no fair.
We certainly have some specific shared struggles (and sparkles!) as Black people in America, but not all of them look or feel the same. Thus, trying to diagnose or discuss all Black women or men or children as a whole does little more than simply forcing us in a box that is just too small for all of us to fit. Especially the sisters.
Because, you know, we’re all fat.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. She tweets: @jamilahlemieux