Comedian Joan Rivers Calls The First Lady “Blackie O”
I got this from Womanist Musings. Apparently, there hasn’t been much play regarding Joan Rivers‘ remarks while she was appearing on Howard Stern‘s radio show recently to promote her new reality show, Joan and Melissa Know Best. Insulting Michelle Obama has become like a spectator sport, from Sarah Palin to Iman to this dried up, cosmetic surgery victim. It is one thing to criticize the First Lady’s fashion choices–like Oscar de la Renta did recently, but I thought he was wrong because he was jealous. Thank goodness, Michelle Obama is not Hillary Clinton or Nancy Reagan, First Ladies the Dominican-born American designer has dressed. He is, frankly, retrograde. I have voiced disapproval of Michelle’s sweaters and even of her Inaugural gown. However, this personal attack definitely is not the same. It was not a compliment. It was a racial slur. Here’s the blow by blow; the recording is here:
Howard Stern: Is it true that you refused to ah…that you wanted to do a joke about Michelle Obama but you backed off because you were afraid that you would be perceived as racist?
Joan Rivers: Yeah.
Howard Stern: Isn’t that what’s wrong with this country though?
Joan Rivers: Yes totally.
Howard Stern: What was the joke?
Joan Rivers: The joke was – and I thought it was a funny complimentary joke. When she first came in I said that she’s got such style. We used to have Jackie O and now we have Blackie O.
Howard Stern: (laughs) What kind of? Well, you are a racist. Okay.
Joan Rivers: I think it’s an adorable joke.
Howard Stern: Listen, you were afraid that you were going to be attacked.
Joan Rivers: I thought it was a compliment.
Robin Quivers: (over cross talk) Where is the compliment in that? I am looking and looking and trying to find it.
Howard Stern: I thought it was a compliment that would have been her defense.
Joan Rivers: Well you can call me Jewie O.
And Rivers is still defending this “adorable” joke. If she had had second thoughts, or even was warned about using this slur during her performances, why in hell did she think that it was okay to retail it on Stern’s show?
Okay, she didn’t tell the joke originally because she thought it would be construed as racist, but apparently she wasn’t so bothered by being saddled with the label of racist, because she had no problem telling it to Howard Stern and his listeners. I would like to know what changed. I highly suspect that on a show like Stern’s, she felt sure that she would escape a media fallout, which is exactly what happened. Where is the media outrage to Joan Rivers referring to Michelle Obama as “Blackie O”? How many blog posts have you read excoriating her for this clearly racist language?
Michelle Obama, has been compared to apes, called radical, racist, ugly, anti-American, Barack’s baby mama and my personal favorite, Stokely Carmichael in a dress. Throughout it all, she has held her head up and continued to serve a country that is largely ungrateful for the labour that she gives them FOR FREE each day. Make no mistake about it, despite the perk of living in the house that slaves built (my italics), she is expected to work daily without any form of payment. The Obamas have never had the cover of “respect for the office” and Michelle Obama has taken the brunt of the assault.
There was an interview with Howard Dean recently in USA Today in which he said that Tea Party whites feel disturbed about the idea of the Obamas occupying the White House. I think that there is more to this than merely revolting against the political reality that Barack Obama won the presidency. Rather, it is the fact that two black adults and their young daughters are living among the relics and in the esteemed tradition of what was the white American Republic. Never mind that these people are highly educated and cultured, capable of representing the United States, possibly beyond those 43 other white men and their families who once occupied the Executive Mansion. That doesn’t wash, and their efforts are never enough. There are two black people in the White House walking where Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy ate, slept, made earth-shaking policy, and even made love. They’re doing the same thing Messrs. Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, etc. were doing. And they aren’t servants. i’m sure that among these white 55-year-olds and up, there is a sense of demoralization and loss that boiled down to what the hell are the Obamas doing in their house?
It wasn’t a good week for Rivers, 77, who told Faux Noise to fck themselves after her appearance on one of their shows was cancelled. Apparently, she had a few choice words about Sarah Palin, now a Fox commentator. Never say that she isn’t an equal opportunity insult artist. However, it’s times like these that I think people like Rivers ought to retire.
Black folks like self-deprecating comedy–their support of comics like Richard Pryor, Robin Harris, and Bernie Mac is proof of that. However, they don’t like the comedy of people like Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, and now Joan Rivers. The insults become too personal, and become more about the joker’s insecurity, self-hating and prejudice, especially regarding other newly arrived ethnics or people of color who may be getting too far ahead of him/her. You could say that is also how whites viewed these immigrants when they came pouring into the country in the latter part of the 19th century and into the 20th. It seems that immigrant Jews brought this view with them from the old countries that thought Jews were getting over on them, and it also came out in their assimilated children’s comedy. This is part of the nucleus of Jewish American humor, which had its beginnings in vaudeville and continues even now. If you were insulted, you supposedly belonged. However, these kinds of jokes also had a detrimental, derogatory impact, supporting those who discriminated, dismissed, and held others down.
I don’t see Rivers apologizing for what she did. And she knows exactly what she did. She thinks that she’s being slick. She’ll say it was all blown out of context. She’ll say that she didn’t write the joke, that she decided on her own not to use it. But she used it anyway, on a radio show, to be with it and in and hip and daring, but actually, just to get over on the First Lady for even surpassing her in some respects. You know what it really sounds like to me and to other black people? Why is that schwartze looking better than me! In this, Rivers is no different than Iman: her unscripted remarks snide but telling.
Rivers may get viewers who hold to her point of view to watch her show, but I see it as a one off. Anything does not always go; there are limits and Joan Rivers just passed it.
Websites supportive of First Lady Michelle Obama’s contributions to fashion as well as to the nation: