i am not here to play. there will be no gifs.
my last post was about first ladies and whiteness, and lo! we meet at that potuck again.
let me begin by saying, unequivocally, no, no jackie kennedy was not the first Black first lady. michelle obama was the first Black first lady.
i’m not sure what the new england historical society is doing here. using empathy, i’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and imagine they think they have produced high quality clickbait and given us some genealogical fun facts about jackie’s ancestry.
i imagine they are totally oblivious to the ways in which this article, founded on a racist stereotype, in turn leverages that racist stereotype as evidence to put forth an argument to claim Blackness for a white woman and position her as “the first black first lady,” thus overwriting the role of michelle obama- the actual first Black first lady- in american history.
this is done with- and i’m going to be nothing but real here- daily mail levels of rigor.
we open with an allusion to beaton’s comment…
which is positioned as a statement of a fact, its inherent racism unacknowledged.
beaton “detected” jackie is Black! that’s what this says, right? we’ve not seen his comments yet, we’ll get to those, but that’s where we are. cecil beaton- who couldn’t possibly be racist because he’s british?- used racist stereotypes to describe jackie in his journal. and this assessment aligned with the “claims” of “some.” and THAT makes jackie the first Black first lady.
this is followed by some genealogy stuff…
which i’m not even going to bother to unpack because YO!
IT IS ALLLLLLLL UNCLEAR. WE CANNOT POSSIBLY KNOW BECAUSE WE ARE NOT GENEALOGISTS.
this begs the question, who the hell are we? there is no byline, so we don’t know who we are. which kind of matters. because if we’re a twelfth grader writing during an internship, that would maybe be one thing. if we’re a grown adult person, that would be another. if we’re 102, that might be something else. (in all of these scenarios, i am assuming we are white.) any which way though, this is a teachable moment. we are, undoubtedly, a human being and, as such, we bear a responsibility in casually putting shit like this out into the world.
we bear a responsibility for using the fucking one-drop rule as though it were a legitimate thing in order to claim Blackness for jackie.
this is the point at which my brains hit the ceiling. because, while i may not expect the new england historical society to be a bastion of progressive thought, quite frankly, i wouldn’t expect any institution outside of white nationalism to be favorably citing the one-drop rule in an argument in 2018.
i say this as a tennessean: when you have to look to the race laws of 1910 tennessee to back up your claim, you need a new claim.
a claim for which there is more than racist laws and anecdotal evidence.
there is also the establishment that this claim has been around for awhile, during earlier (racist) times.
to be clear, jackie may well have had Black ancestors. many, many americans do, as the author here is quick to establish:
the connection between this circumstance and white supremacist violence and oppression is gestured towards in the awkwardness of thomas jefferson’s familial constellation, but it is wholly ignored in connection to jackie. but then this article isn’t so much concerned with the specifics of her genealogy as with establishing her as Black, so as to make her the first Black first lady.
this is, at its core, an argument about white supremacy.
anything michelle can do, jackie can do better.
but, whether or not jackie is Black, it maybe doesn’t even matter all that much because BREAKING NEWS: the US has probably had countless “black” first ladies by now!
good god, how important we white people think we are.
(seriously, if anyone has any theories on or terminology for wtf this is, i would be sooooo grateful. it’s clearly not blackfishing, and seems connected to the broader delegitimization of birtherism, while also maybe being something else…?)
but back to beaton…
i would like to clarify something. beaton’s remarks are not catty. let’s not cloak misogyny by calling it cattiness. let’s call it what it is. his remarks are about white women, and he draws on racial stereotypes to describe them. these comments are masculinist, obviously, but they are also overtly racist.
this is how beaton described jackie:
it is a dig at her femininity, but it is a dig at her femininity specifically as a white woman, which operates as a dig by describing her looks in terms of stereotypes about Black people, specifically Black men.
that is some nasty ass misogynistic racist shit there.
true story though: THAT SHE WAS DESCRIBED LIKE THIS BY BEATON IN NO WAY MAKES JACKIE BLACK.
i cannot believe i have to say this to the new england historical society in 2018, but: THE WAY CECIL BEATON DESCRIBES A WHITE WOMAN DOES NOT MEAN SHE IS A BLACK PERSON.
and so, the fact that the way the new england historical society would introduce that quote is this:
and that is the article’s end. it ends on a block quote. it gives beaton’s racist musings the last word.
i cannot decide whether it completely boggles the mind that this story was recently updated or if it’s just peak 2018.
come to think of it, a recurring thing here is “things that shouldn’t have to be said in 2018.” so maybe 2018 is even worse than the horridness i imagine.
4 thoughts on “dear new england historical society: no, a white woman was not the first Black first lady”
Perhaps it is most fortuitous that I came across your blog when I did – who knew that one could find an article about Jackie that seemed to avoid both dailymailspeak and prudish judgement?
I felt this may be of some interest for you, but if you have already read this and I have somehow missed this fact, then perhaps it is high time that I visit Specsavers.
Ah, thank you! I do know the Sheehan profile very well and it is indeed a good one. In case you’ve not come across it, this one by Gloria Emerson a few years later is also excellent: http://jfk.hood.edu/Collection/White%20Materials/White%20Assassination%20Clippings%20Folders/Kennedy%20Family%20Folders/Kennedy%20Jacqueline%20Bouvier/JBK-162.pdf
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