Duchess Harris: If Being Fat was Ever an Act of Black Resistance, It's Not Any Longer

Roundup: Historians' Take

Duchess Harris is an associate professor of American studies at Macalester College and an adjunct professor of race and the law at William Mitchell College of Law.

In an op-ed earlier this month in the New York Times, Alice Randall argues for "a body-culture revolution in black America. Why? Because too many experts who are involved in the discussion of obesity don't understand something crucial about black women and fat: many black women are fat because we want to be."

I disagree. I'm not sure that black women want to be fat. If they do, they've been keeping pretty quiet about it....

Of course everyone's entitled to unsubstantiated opinion. But Randall critically missteps when she tries to support her opinion by skewing history and political fact (maybe she's taking pointers from our friends on the political right who re-contextualized national health care as fascist). She writes: "To get a quick introduction to the politics of black fat, I recommend 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."

I can see how fat could have been an act of resistance during Reconstruction; not so much in 2012....

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