The obvious elephant in the room is Gabriel’s weight and so I will say it from the beginning — she is a fat Black woman.
Her weight, in my mind does not obscure her obvious beauty. To compliment her, many believe is an act of PC speech because fat is coded as repulsive in our society that privileges thinness as an idealized norm. On several occasions, men like Howard Stern have deliberately demeaned her and suggested that she has no place in Hollywood because of her weight. She is seen by many as a one hit wonder, simply based in her size, rather than her raw talent.
For Black women, fat represents more than ugly, as it does for White women; it represents mammy. Mammy is a figure that most if not all Black women would like to see die, because she represents servitude and submissiveness to Whiteness. One cannot help but reasonably wonder that even as White people praise her for achievement and the sometimes racist fat positive movement steps up to her defense, if they do so out of love and respect, or because they see in her a non threatening mammy? One commenter had this to say:
I feel that white Hollywood is far more comfortable with the obese Gabourey Sidibe than the other talented and beautiful black women in Hollywood. Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Lathan, Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington are not getting the shine they deserve.
However, since Gabourey Sidibe is the obese black mammy like Oprah and Queen Latifah white America is must more comfortable with this kind of image of the black woman. The non threatening obese mammy is far more palatable than the in shape beautiful black woman.
By this standard, by virtue of their weight, any fat Black woman would be understood as a mammy regardless of her political understanding of how race and gender functions to effect her life’s chances. What we cannot escape, no matter how post racial we claim our society is, are the categories of: mammy, jezebel, and sapphire. This is not because these categories have any basis in reality, but because Whiteness is pervasive. These simplistic categories are meant to demean and debase Black womanhood.
Mammy is specifically constructed as an asexual being who casts aside any and all personal needs or desires to please Whiteness. How does this specific construction match a woman that is clearly sexual and has refused to smile on command for photographers? Gabourey clearly walks through the world on her own terms and this is the antithesis of what we understand Mammy to be. There is no Scarlett O’Hara figure in her life, nor does she spend her time constantly extolling the virtues of Whiteness. She does not strive to be a credit for her race; she simply attempt to be the best at what she does, while searching for her version of happiness.
When we use the language of fat hatred, claiming that health is a reason to run from Gaburey is nothing but a desperate search to avoid the hideous mammy characterization. If Sidibe were suddenly to become invisible tomorrow, it would not lessen the desire of Whiteness to promote the much hated mammy trope, because it is to the advantage of White supremacy to present the idea of a naturally submissive Black woman as the norm. When we reject the person instead of the trope we are simply affirming that there is yet another category of Black womanhood which is to be despised; therefore policing our own community for the benefit of Whiteness.
There can be no denial that there are some people who will look at Gabourey and see mammy smiling back at them both consciously and unconsciously, yet that is not a function of her, but a function of Whiteness. When we use fat hatred to claim that her success is obscuring the talents of other Black women, we are only playing into the divisive strategy that Whiteness has long used to control people of colour. Even the Black women that some believe are deserving of greater accolades, are still perceived by Whiteness as fitting into either the jezebel or sapphire trope, and therefore; the way to divest ourselves of these horrible caricatures, is not to further demean another Black woman, but to defeat the idea that any of these labels are representative of Black womanhood. The entity that needs to disappear is mammy and not Gabourey.