Wellesley Professor Discusses Race and Gender Stereotypes and the First Lady

February 26, 2013

Michael Jeffries on Radio Boston: What Drives Opinions about Michelle Obama?

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign is designed to help children develop healthy eating and living habits in order to address the problem of childhood obesity. Comments on a recent video featuring Mrs. Obama talking about the initiative on a children's network drew the attention of Radio Boston host Meghna Chakrabarti. Rather than focusing on the initiative, several commenters chose to instead make remarks about Mrs. Obama's physique.

Michael Jeffries, Knafel Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Assistant Professor of American Studies, recently joined WBUR's Radio Boston for a discussion on Michelle Obama and Race in America.

In his new book Jeffries writes, "Ms. Obama’s body is under absurd scrutiny, and in many cases the connections to intersectional race/gender stereotypes are painfully clear. While noting that the media is responsible for her status as a symbol representing all black women, she simultaneously validates the notion that black women do look to her as a reflection of themselves."

Speaking to host Chakrabarti, Jeffries said, "When we're talking about race in contemporary America, we have to be mindful and we have to commit to talking about race in concert with... other social forces like class and gender. This obsession of the first lady's body is a perfect example of this. We know that many of these comments are racially driven but we can't understand the meaning and agitation behind them if we're not going to think about gender."

Listen to the conversation on the Radio Boston website.


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