“Stunning” is a word frequently associated with First Lady Michelle Obama in mainstream publications. But in the darker corners of the web, some conservatives churn out a steady stream of sexist and racist memes, videos, essays and of course cartoons, about her.
Ben Garrison, no stranger to controversy, recently caught the attention of many when he created and published a cartoon comparing Michelle Obama to Melania Trump.
The cartoon, which is making the rounds on conservative sites and provoking the ire of progressives, depicts an unflattering, muscle bound, manly looking Mrs. Obama next to a sexy, ultra feminine Mrs. Trump. The caption says “Make the First Lady great again.”
The cartoon clearly depicts that how these two women look is the most important contribution they make to the country.
Why are looks even discussed when we talk about any First Lady? Why is Mrs. Obama not recognized for her accomplishments before and during her White House tenure?
Mrs. Obama has two Ivy League degrees. Her career has been on hold while she has faithfully and effectively taken on initiatives to help our country. Childhood obesity has decreased since her program to address it began. Her commitment to military families has enriched the lives of thousands. But the focus is on how she looks, which brings us to the next point.
Melania Trump is the embodiment of the white standard of beauty. If beauty is what constitutes a great First Lady, and it isn’t, there is nothing Michelle Obama can do to meet this standard. It is physically impossible.
The cartoonist, like many before him who mock the appearance of Mrs. Obama, do so with no hint of an ability or willingness to examine their own prejudices about what constitutes beauty. Black women who are considered beautiful in our modern context almost always have features that closely match the white standard of beauty—light skin, long hair, smaller noses, and a slender frame.
Last year, 16-year old feminist and actress Amandla Stenberg said it best in an Instagram post that went viral:
“Black features are beautiful. Black women are not. White women are paragons of virtue and desire. Black women are objects of fetishism and brutality,” Stenberg wrote. “This, at least, seems to be the mentality surrounding black femininity and beauty in a society built upon eurocentric beauty standards.”
Garrison, an independent political cartoonist, is acutely aware that he is considered racist in many circles. On his website, he says he is the “target of an ongoing smear campaign to ruin his online reputation and his career as a commercial artist.” He maintains that he is not racist.
He may not be, but this cartoon sure is.
Featured image, Screengrab from Twitter.