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Portland University Professor: “Talking About Obesity Is Racist”

Portland University Professor: “Talking About Obesity is Racist”

An assistant professor at Portland State University is making the argument that talking about obesity is racist, contending that doing so can “reproduce racial injustice.”

Rachel Sanders, who teaches political science and whose research interests include “biopower, critical race studies, feminist theory, popular culture, and health and body politics” argued her case in a paper published in the journal Groups, Politics, and Identities, writing,

“I argue here that even sympathetic representations of obesity as a pathology most prevalent among black and Latina/o women and children can help reproduce racial injustice. At a time when fatness is deeply stigmatizing, fat bodies denote civic unfitness, and high white obesity rates jeopardize whiteness, raced and gendered obesity discourses effectively reify white superiority and maintain white dominance.”

Sanders continues,

“Second, because they unfold in a political context pervaded by welfare-queen imagery, these discourses forge a new public identity of black womanhood, the obese black woman, which revives tropes of black women as insatiable, lazy bad mothers who deplete the state and economy. This imagery invites and justifies discriminatory and exclusionary practices that sustain structural racial inequality. To combat rather than reproduce racial inequality, anti-racist anti-obesity discourses must expose obesity as an embodiment of structural racism and promote structural transformation.”

According to Campus Reform,

“While the CDC notes that obesity increases one’s risk for issues like heart disease and cancer, Sanders argues that the ‘pathologization of fatness’ should be ‘questioned,’ because ‘being fat is not tantamount to being unhealthy.’

To fight ‘racialized obesity discourses,’ she recommends that people must consider how conversations about healthy eating can ‘justify derogation and marginalization of individuals who do cannot or do not adhere to them.'”

Sanders appears to subscribe to the progressive belief that upsetting people by discussing obesity is more important than tackling the consequences of obesity. Instead of focusing her efforts on figuring out why some people suffer from obesity more than others and working to reduce obesity rates, Sanders believes people should tip-toe around the subject in order to avoid offending or hurting someone.

When feelings and the desire to avoid being viewed as “racist” is more important than an honest discussion about the negative health effects of obesity, people will end up paying the ultimate price.

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