I Write Letters

by Shaker Moderator aforalpha

[Content Note: Fat bias.]

Dear Professor Harris-Perry,

It is no secret around here that I think you're great. A significant proportion of my conversations with my mother start with one of us asking, "Did you watch MHP?"

It's amazing to be able to turn on the TV every weekend and see a brilliant, progressive, all-around awesome professor lead discussions about vitally important topics that are too often ignored. I don't quite know how to put into words what it means to me that the brilliant, progressive, all-around awesome professor looks like me. I think...I think you know. I think you know because you've had Dominique Dawes as a guest. And Kerry Washington. And Gabrielle Douglas. And Misty Copeland. (Oh my god, Misty Copeland! When I was a kid I got a dancewear catalog with a picture of her on the cover and I saved until I left for college.) You've had amazing conversations about black film and theater and visibility in media.

And I think you know what it means not just to have people who look like you in arts, sports, and entertainment. I think you know what it means to have representation in public discourse. One of the things I most love about your show is that you let people tell their stories.

Yesterday, you had four black men talking about the challenges facing black men. You've had someone whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, young people with student loan debt, people who use SNAP, people who have college degrees and live in poverty. As much as possible, you try to let people talk rather than being a show where people talk about others. I think that is truly your show's greatest strength. I can go anywhere and find white people talking about black issues, wealthy people talking about poverty, adults talking about school closures far less intelligently than Asean Johnson does.

So, Professor, what the hell? Why is it that you were able to find four black men to talk about the issues directly affecting black men, yet when it came time to talk about the AMA's decision to classify "obesity" as a disease, you had a panel of four thin people? There are fat doctors, professors, dieticians, activists, and other individuals who have relevant professional expertise and personal experience. Why don't they get a platform?

And why don't your fat viewers get to experience the same feelings of validation and recognition at having their stories told by people who look like them that I as a thin black woman do when I watch your show? Why isn't nerdland a place where the demeaning representations of fat people in much of media are counteracted by simply letting fat people speak for themselves?

Every group of people you have on your show is far more complex than the narratives about them are. Today when you asked the black men on your panel what popped into their heads when you said "fathers" you got both absent AND awesome. It's dangerous to let the only story we hear about a group be one told by outsiders. We would never hear about the awesome black fathers. We would never hear about the junior whose high school is facing closure but who desperately wants to go to college.

Similarly we never hear about the fat Olympians and marathoners and dance champions, the fat nutritionists, the fat people who are fat and healthy, the fat people who are fat and happy. We never hear that there are multiple reasons for being fat, or see meaningful explorations of the intersection of fat and disability, or fat and poverty. We never hear that there's not actually consensus in the field of obesity science.

I realize that one of your panelists runs a weightloss blog and has experienced significant weightloss. Still, the egregious "headless fatties" phenomenon isn't the only way to devalue the intellect of fat people--excluding the voices of any currently fat people, even from conversations about them is a damn good way to signal that fat people don't have anything worthwhile to contribute. There is no reason you cannot find four fat people to talk about issues affecting them. I would like to see you have a panel where you invite fat acceptance activists and Health At Every Size experts to talk about the wide reaching effects of fat hatred. As far as I'm concerned, calling in thin people to talk about "obesity" is a fundamental break from the standards you have endeavored to set for other marginalized populations.

Oh and Professor? And I have no words strong enough to express the depth of my disappointment at hearing you take a dig at Paula Deen's cooking and her decision to keep her personal health information private. I have a disability that I do not disclose in all situations, because stigma and discrimination exist. Once again: Paula Deen's food never used racial epithets. Her pancreas never told homophobic jokes. Please leave them out of this.

You are in a unique position to bring visibility to lots of marginalized people and issues. You can do better than this. 'Cause this? This left me saying, "Wow…seriously?"


P.S. Kate217 has a letter for you, too.

P.P.S. Related Reading: Aphra Writes Letters; the entirety of the Fatsronauts 101 Series.

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