If Sandra Fluke were Black

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Shanelle Matthews
Rush Limbaugh’s hateful comments toward Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, and the ensuing digital shitstorm that resulted in over twelve advertisers and two radio stations pulling their support has proven many things. One of which is that women are using the internet to combat sexism and intolerance-- and we’re winning.
Fluke, who was barred from giving her testimony at the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform on the ObamaCare contraception mandate and its implications for religious liberty, has dealt diplomatically with both the good and the bad press she’s received. But there are underlying issues that are being dangerously overlooked, one of which is the fact that Sandra Fluke is White.

When a white woman gets called a slut, America is up in arms, tearing through their closets for their shiniest white knight armor and suiting up for a battle to reclaim her dignity. But the living and breathing stereotype about Black women’s sexual prowess and the lascivious nature by which we supposedly live our lives is as pervasive as ever. No one is suiting up to fight for us, no armies of people are showing up on our behalf making threats for us, and no one is fighting to reclaim our dignity.

I can’t help but think that if Sandra Fluke were Black, the outrage toward Rush Limbaugh would be only a sliver of what it is now and would mostly be championed by other Black women with little support from others. This isn’t a jab at Ms. Fluke or an attempt to minimize her experiences. Her courage to defend a woman’s right to access to contraception in the midst of a political war on women’s rights can’t be denied. But we must acknowledge the privilege of her Whiteness and consider the consequences of what this might look like if she were a woman of color.

The capricious and sexually implicit name-calling at Black women is not new – especially by White men. Our narrative in this country has been widely politicized for decades. Written off as hypersexual in nature, we’ve been relegated and homogenized into a primitive subculture of people who have no control over our sexual appetite and therefore are not worthy of being supported in an effort to salvage our poise.

When issues concerning the well-being of women in this country go viral, Black women are never at the center because if we were, it would mean that our needs are being prioritized, and they are not. When the Komen debacle peaked, very few people, if any, offered a racial analysis about the importance of prioritizing the women most in need of Planned Parenthood’s services – low-income women of color. In the broader fight for reproductive health care services, the faces of women of color are often blurred, hidden behind a thick wall of red tape because talking about our intersectional and unique set of circumstances dilutes what mainstream media and most of America considers a more substantial and relevant conversation.

Limbaugh’s slut shaming rhetoric is an experience Black women suffer through every day that never receives attention. Most recently, the late Whitney Houston was called a “crack ho” by conservative talk show hosts, John & Ken, at L.A.'s KFI AM 640. While they were both suspended by the station, the country did not rush to salvage the dignity or reputation of one of America’s most valued Black singers, there wasn’t a nationwide call to pull advertising, or a national petition with nearly 100K signatures to have John and Ken fired. It is a great day in America when people are passionately pushing back against mainstream conservative shock jocks in support of women’s agency but as usual, all women are not equal when it comes to America’s decision to rally support and if we’re being completely transparent here, folks don’t always like to admit when they have it easier, this would imply there is some level of inequity and people would be expected to act.

Every woman, no matter her race, should be supported in her decisions about sexual freedom, access to contraception, and reproductive health care. Sandra Fluke has the privilege of both being white and having access to law school education, but those should not be requirements for having the buttressing support of America’s outrage in times of need.

By Shanelle Matthews, Communications Manager

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