Monday, May 7, 2012

Let's Get Real: A Reponse to Alice Randall's 'Black Women and Fat'

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I tried to ignore Alice Randall's op-ed in the New York Times Opinion pages after reading the title. I've grown weary of any title that consists of the terms "Black Women" and "weight," so I figured I would save myself from any possible annoyance. Of course, this fabulous invention called the internet simply would not let me be great. Randall's piece was everywhere - from my Twitter timeline to my gmail inbox. So giving into the peer pressure, I clicked on the link leading to it and had my initial fears confirmed. Once again, black women are on the receiving end of a scolding for the rise of obesity in the U.S.




I wish someone would tell Ms. Randall that Black women are not the only group suffering from this epidemic; the nation at large is. The average American can barely watch a 30 minute show without being bombarded with commercials and show scenes with delectable images and clips of food. Let's face it, our country as a whole has a serious issue with how we feel about and look at food. Most family chain restaurants (that many Americans go to for weekly family dinners and/or to celebrate special occasions) serve their food on plates that are close to being the quarter of a size of a coffee table, and yet we demonize and punish those who fall victim to it. That, my friends, is hypocrisy at its finest.

In her piece, Ms. Randall made light of such a complex issue by correlating our rates of obesity to our supposed desire to keep our men happy. Not once did she bring up the issue of economics and food deserts. Its no secret that the black community has been one of those to be hit the hardest by the economic downturn. With many families lacking proper monetary funds, it becomes impossible for them to buy organic foods. And even if they were able to buy a few fresh, organic apples once or twice a month, where would they go?! The First Lady has brought to the forefront the issue of food deserts - urban areas that lack adequate grocery stores. In many urban areas, you may come across 3 chicken spots, 2 McDonalds and a Chinese takeout before you ever find a grocery store. Surely this deprivation of fresh foods plays a considerable role in the health issues that is affecting our communities.

I respect Alice Randall's quest to be healthy and fit, and I respect her call to arms for other women to get healthy with her. However, I need her and others to stop trying to make black women the face of the obesity epidemic. We are not. Of course health is an issue everyone should be concerned and focused about thus avoiding tummy tuck and liposuction cost. Women should be health conscious but making black women the face of obesity is not acceptable. This is a nation-wide issue that is in need of a nation-wide solution. When discussing how obesity affects marginalized communities, we must take into account what foods are available in neighborhood supermarkets, on our blocks and in our schools. We have to take into account that losing weight is a momentous action that affects one psychologically as well as physically. And most importantly, we must understand that one's weight is not THE way to make conclusions about one's overall wellness. So many other factors must be taken into account. I implore Ms. Randall and others to educate themselves more, and to stop making us the whipping-boys (or shall I say the whipping-girls) of our nation's failings.

Valerie Jean-Charles is a 23 year old community servant and writer in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA in Political Science from Fordham University. Follow at @Empressval to join her never-ending conversations about everything and then some.

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