Fearing the Black Body: Reflections

Biopolitics in Blackness and Fatness

The relationship between bodies and politics has an essential history of structural violence through biopower and biopolitics. It is necessary here to clarify what is meant by biopower and biopolitics. The term biopower, introduced by Philosopher Michel Foucault (1998), refers to the power relation that institutions have onto people through regulations and social practices (140). Biopolitics refers to an intersectional field between bodies and politics, consisting of biopower. The cultural notion on bodies appears innocuous through societal concerns on obesity, such as normalization of BMI scale and diet trends, without connecting how the cultural belief about fatness associates with racial prejudices.

In Fearing the Black Body (2019), Scholar Sabrina Strings discusses how white supremacy and misogyny are associated with fatphobia through a comparative historical analysis. In Western or colonized culture, the body is subject to Eurocentric values. Without questioning the limitation of Western beliefs, we end up with pseudoscience, particularly scientific racism and eugenics. Black women like Sara Baartman were subjected to dehumanizing gazes by white men and women as Othered through the hyper-focus on subjective differences: the differences between races and ethnicity through pseudoscience and racism. The past outcomes onto the present are that we have notions of what fat is without understanding the ideas’ origins. Even marginalized groups internalize oppression through a collective memory, which the term refers to culture collectively forget historical subjugations, as they also identify themselves through the oppressors’ notion of history (Hist & Manier, 2008; 183-200). People identify with a collective belief that fatness symbolizes moral impurity. The Ascetic aesthetic movement advocates the belief that thinness is a sign of moral purity, just as thinness began to associate with American patriotism. An example is how Elizabeth Bisland, the editor of Cosmopolitan, defined the American Anglo-Saxon beauty with thinness through her work, influencing mainstream media and academia to endorse xenophobia and the eugenic movement, thus becomes doxa (Strings, 154). Another example is Dr. John Kellogg’s influence on health as he advocated for white women’s reproductive health and the eugenic movement (169-186). The biopower of whiteness is by social control through unquestioned bias, such as having a lower chance of dating for men of color and men with HIV. These men have attached stigma that creates distinction by being othered through stereotypes (Smith & Amaro, 2021). Philosopher Julia Kristeva coined abjection to describe the negative human reaction, like revulsion, to threatening breakdown between the loss of distinction between subject and object (cla.purdue.edu). People abject women like Sara Barrtman as they know that their bodies change through weight; they can be like Baartman through changes in power relation. Black women are subject to colonialization by racial and sexual stereotypes in media; examples include Google searches on Black female models versus white female models. The images depict Black women as more hypersexual than white women (Benard, 2016; 1-11). The biopolitics in daily life ensures social control through our approval of it, thus allowing biopower for hegemonic groups.

The biopolitics of bodies is what ideology we internalize. We internalize ideology by our actions, thoughts, and knowledge. Although we are never actually freed from hegemonic ideology as we acquire new beliefs over another. All ideologies have limitations. However, we must determine the consequences of our choices and still resolve what we desire. The sense of liberalism requires consent to decide with the available information we have so far. Knowledge grants us freedom through further comprehension of our social reality.  

Questions

1.         How does capitalism relate to racism and fatness in String’s book? How does capitalism correlate to colonization like Sara Baartman or cultural components like diet fads?

2.         After reading the book, what are the effects of colonialization and racism on mental health itself?

  • I ask this question because I think about how mainstream culture stigmatizes mental illness, as the dehumanizing terms and practices against people with mental illness are similar to fatphobia. An example is self-help books with misleading ideas that depression associates moral weakness without understanding the context of mental illness, like how poverty associates with depression by social inequality, like struggling to get essential resources or overworking.

3.         Strings notes how feminist scholars struggle to find out how fatphobia is prominent in misogyny without understanding how racism overlaps with fatphobia and sexism. What are other examples of white feminism in research similar to Strings’ research?

References

Benard, Akeia A. F. “Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism.” Sexualization, Media and Society, vol. 2, no. 4, 2016, p. 237462381668062.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge. Penguin Books Ltd., 1998.

Hirst, William & Manier, David. 2008. “Towards a psychology of collective memory”, Memory, vol. 16, no. 3, 183-200, DOI: 10.1080/09658210701811912

Introduction to Julia Kristeva, Module on the Abject, cla.purdue.edu/academic/english/theory/psychoanalysis/kristevaabject.html.

Smith, Jesús Gregorio, and Gabriel Amaro . “‘No Fats, No Femmes, and No Blacks or Asians’: The Role of Body-Type, Sex Position, and Race on Condom Use Online.” AIDS and Behavior , 3 Jan. 2021, doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-020-03146-z.

Strings, Sabrina. Fearing the Black Body: the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. New York University Press, 2019.

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