Kimberly Seals Allers

I was really saddened and quite frankly, upset, to hear Joan Rivers share recently on national radio that her pet name for the First Lady is “Blackie O.” Now, I often find Ms. Rivers hilarious as she pans celebrities on the red carpet and when trying to move her face despite way too many plastic surgeries. But this one, just wasn’t funny.

Why not Chelly O? Or Mrs. O since her last name already starts with the letter? But to take it to race was just unnecessary, and highlights a few key points that have been bothering me of late.

For one, there is an unsettling undercurrent of disrespect toward our first family that always comes back to race that has never been experienced before. For eight years we had a president who couldn’t find his way to a coherent sentence with a flashlight and a map, but the insults never equated his stupidity with race. I would have preferred if Ms. Rivers talked about Mrs. Obama’s outfits.

And for the uninformed the world “blackie” has an extremely negative and racist connotation. It was used to denigrate, dehumanize and liken people of African descent to monkeys. Monkeys. Blackies. Get it? Still not funny, right?

I didn’t think so either.

I’m happy to chalk it up to Joan’s ignorance. I can only imagine what all that pulling and tugging has done to her brain capacity. But I think it continues a pervasive negative tone of disrespect for African Americans, and specifically black women. Here we have a Princeton University and Harvard Law School educated woman, who has worked at top law firms, selflessly served her community, a committed mother, and is serving as First Lady of the most powerful country in the world with more grace, poise, and dare I say fashion flair, than the White House has seen in decades, and even SHE gets thrown racial epithets

What hope is there for me and my daughter? And the millions of the other black mothers raising their daughters and sons to be their best and serve their communities? Is that what we can expect, that even in the face of extraordinary accomplishments, to still be viewed as “blackies?”

This is not a laughing matter. In fact, it gives me goose bumps, and not the good ones. It’s just another example of the kind of stresses black mothers face, and it upsets me that Michelle Obama’s mother is feeling it, even as she sleeps in the White House.

Oh and memo to Joan Rivers: I know you are trying to keep your career afloat, sign new reality show deals and hold on to your relevance and youth, but America is trying to move past its racist history. We have much at stake in addressing this type of thinking and the many ways it plays out in our health and in our lives. And by referencing it, and then acting surprised that African Americans would be offended by it, you are showing yourself to be the one thing you strive so hard not to be: Old.

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