The Audacity of Young Black Women Who are Low-Income, Obese, Abused, and ‘Precious’

About a week ago, I began reading an article in the New York Times Magazine called, “The Audacity of Precious”.  I was so pissed by what I read in the first few paragraphs I couldn’t finish the piece at that time.

When Precious’ plight lands her in a special school, she blossoms: the audience’s initial rejection of Precious, even repulsion at the sight of her, slowly gives way to a kind of identification.

The audience’s initial rejection of Precious, even repulsion at the sight of her, slowly gives way to a kind of identification?

WTF? *And* what the hell? It seems that editor-at-large, Lynn Hirschberg, was projecting her own prejudice onto the audience, making the assumption that everyone thinks like her (I highly doubt she actually polled the audience to come to her conclusion). Either way, it is a disgusting reinforcement of our dominant culture’s back assward values when a writer for the esteemed New York Times can get away with such blatant prejudicial statements about a character who is a fat, low-income, Black young woman.

I was so disgusted; I stopped reading the article hoping to finish the rest when I had the mental space to really digest it. No such luck!

That’s why I was thrilled to learn that our friend Latoya Peterson at wrote a thoughtful and poignant retort for, not only about the New York Times Magazine piece, but other equally offensive articles and blogs about the film and its characters.

In the Jezebel piece, Precious Reactions Interesting Infuriating, Peterson writes:

I finished reading Push last Thursday and saw Precious the following day. Although the latter opens this Friday, I’m already horrified at a lot of the discussion prompted by the film. Did these people watch the same movie I did? For the sake of brevity, let’s simply focus on the “WTF Moments.”

Outlet: New York Magazine
Article:When Push Comes to Shove
Speaker: David Edelstein, author of the piece

I’m not judging girls who look like Sidibe in life, but her image onscreen is jarring to the point of being transgressive, its only equivalent to be seen in John Waters’s pointedly outrageous carnivals. Her head is a balloon on the body of a zeppelin, her cheeks so inflated they squash her eyes into slits. Her expression is either surly or unreadable. Even with her voice-over narration, you’re meant to stare at her ebony face and see nothing.

Sidibe does look like this in real life – what, has he never seen a big girl before? I suppose not – watching the movie, many different emotions flicker across Precious’ face, but these are easily missed if one is gawking rather than watching.

But the woman who drops a TV onto Precious as she hurries down the stairs with her infant is a sociopath, too singularly garish to be universal.

Spoken like someone who has never watched one of their parents lose their mind over something you did and prepare to commit homicide. There’s a reason Precious was running so fucking fast. Did he just miss that part in the opening where her mother Mary promises to whoop her ass for being uppity? That wasn’t hyperbole.

Edelstein must have also missed some of Lee Daniels‘ memories from growing up. As he explains to the Daily Beast:

“It brought back a feeling I had when I was 11 years old and living in the projects in Philly. I answered the door one day, and a neighbor of ours, a light-skinned black girl who was about five years old, was standing there naked and bleeding. She’d been beaten with an electrical cord. I looked in my mom’s eyes, and it was the first time I ever saw fear in her eyes. When I read Sapphire’s book, those memories came back, and I felt I have to deal with this.”

I get the impression from Edelstein’s review that the book and the movie were simply too much dysfunction for him to stomach. And that’s fine, I can understand that instinct – but why does he feel the need to dismiss brutal shows of force as “too singularly garish to be universal?” Please keep in mind that just because an experience is out of your ken, it may be heartbreakingly common to someone else.

Continue Reading:

The good news is that Latoya’s piece hit a nerve with New York Magazine writer David Edelson who wrote a response to her piece. In it he uses every excuse in the book to *not* own up to his outrageous assumptions. He declares:

One line of mine I admit was insensitive: “She’s also sexually molested by her jealous, welfare-cheating, gross, and sedentary mother, although the genital fingering might seem preferable to the verbal and physical abuse.” The last thing I would ever do is make light of sexual abuse. In a clumsy way I was trying to suggest that I have read accounts of incest in which victims have said that at least when being touched they weren’t being beaten bloody, that it was perceived by the victim at the time as the lesser of two evils. But that is too complicated and too debatable a point to pack into a single offhand phrase. I apologize.

Read more of his lame excuses at: When Push Comes to Shove — and the Shove Back, Hard

You know what would be nice? If these folks were truly honest about their bias and prejudice around race, size, economic class, etc. Wouldn’t it be enlightening if Lynn Hirschberg apologized for her remarks by saying, “I was confronted by my own privilege as a thin white woman, when I realized my assumption about the audience initially rejecting Precious and being repulsed at the sight of her, was just my insensitive prejudiced perception.”
Yeah, Wouldn’t that be nice?

2 thoughts on “The Audacity of Young Black Women Who are Low-Income, Obese, Abused, and ‘Precious’

  1. This is very troubling to me because people are teased and mistreated on a daily basis based on their skin complexion. The African American community deals with enough discrimination within our own group and now someone wants to criticize not only ‘Precious” but the actress who is playing “Precious”.

    Yes, it is a discriminatory action. Sometimes we may not even realize it because of our own upbringing and beliefs but someone we must take a seat back and think “what if it was me”

    I enjoyed reading.


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