We can’t ignore Marrianne Williamson’s fatphobia and ableism just because she supports reparations for slavery
It's always those who are already marginalized who suffer the most when these belief systems are deployed.
Marianne Williamson makes me physically ill, and seeing people support her compounds my nausea. The Democratic candidate made waves last week when she delivered an impressive answer about reparations to Don Lemon post-debate:
“[T]here were 250 years of slavery followed by another 100 years of domestic terrorism… given that there were 4 to 5 million slaves at the end of the Civil War—they were all promised 40 acres and a mule for a family of four. If you did the math today it would be trillions of dollars. I believe that anything less than $100 billion is an insult, and I believe that $200 to $500 billion is politically feasible today, because so many Americans realize there is an injustice that continues to form a toxicity underneath the surface.”
Black Twitter erupted with praise for Williamson’s astute naming of white violence as “domestic terrorism” as well as the fact that her math equation regarding reparations included the promised-but-never-paid “40 acres and a mule” for Black families after the Civil War.
I admit. The answer is a good one. Reparations are owed to us. Full stop. But despite this demonstration of an understanding of the economic disadvantages that Black families have been intentionally and strategically placed in following the abolition* of chattel slavery, it is not and never will be enough to negate all of the harmful things Williamson has written and said regarding disability, mental illness, AIDS, and fat people.
The political circus, or the democratic process, is not something that I usually devote my energy towards in my work. I try to avoid debate season and the primaries as much as I can, because it all just gives me a headache and I know that either a white supremacist or a sociopath or both will end up in the oval office anyway. But Marianne Williamson’s fatphobia, ableism, and cult-ish pseudoscience rhetoric make me physically ill, especially because she has profited from so-called self-help books that do nothing more than shame and blame, all while claiming to do the exact opposite. In short, she’s a scammer and I’m not buying her Snake Oil.
I can’t stomach watching Black people throw their support behind her because she answered one question—albeit the most important question to a lot of Black people—more impressively than any other candidate. Her ableism, fatphobia, and other disturbing ways of thinking cannot and should not be ignored.
As cogent as her comments on reparations are, as a presidential candidate, Williamson’s anti-vaxx, anti-science, fatphobic, ableist ideologies could become more mainstream, which presents an especially dangerous situation for Black Americans. It’s always those who are already marginalized who suffer the most when these belief systems are deployed.
Black people are already positioned as being at fault for our own oppression in the white imagination. We are already blamed for not being able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps while white supremacists and the systems they operate within actively work to immobilize us.
Our disadvantages are seen as personal failures and as an indication of the poor character of a monolithic Blackness, rather than as a result of deeply racist social systems. For Black folks who are fat, disabled, and mentally, chronically, and/or terminally ill—and trying to survive and seek services within systems that are already anti-Black and discriminatory—this becomes compounded, again and again.
“Dear Fat Ass…”
This is how Williamson thinks fat people should address letters to ourselves. “There’s no point in pretending it’s easy to love Not-Thin You, given how much pain, shame, fatigue, and self-hatred she’s caused you,” she writes in one of her self-help books, A Course in Weight Loss, in which she describes fat as “a repository of twisted, distorted thoughts and feelings that didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
For Williamson, weight loss—which, of course, is something she believes all fat or Not-Thin people should always be working towards—is simply a matter of reckoning with our own failure to properly love ourselves and properly align ourselves spiritually according to her Christian doctrine, then correcting that apparent mistake. “Fat cells will dissolve permanently when they are dissolved through the power of love,” she offers.
Not only do these sentiments promote the ideology that fat or Not-Thin people are as such because we are lacking something that thin people inherently possess—that we are weak, immoral, spiritually inferior self-saboteurs—but it also actively encourages fat bias and antagonism. Moreover, it ignores biological realities as well as social systems and stigmas which create hostile environments for anyone who isn’t thin while constructing larger bodies as inherently bad and undesirable.
Any “pain, shame, fatigue, and self-hatred” we feel is not because of the size of our bodies, and it is disingenuous to assert, as an immovable truth, that feeling these things is our own fault. Fat and Not-Thin people feel these negative emotions because we exist in a fatphobic society which tells us that not being thin makes us unworthy and unwanted. It’s an internalization of what the world constantly tells us about ourselves and our bodies, not an inherent state of being caused by not being thin.
Fatphobia is dangerous. There are far too many testimonies about deaths, or near-deaths, or late diagnoses that could have been prevented if medical professionals had looked past a patient’s body size and addressed their medical concerns. An NYPD Union lawyer was recently able to successfully argue in court that Eric Garner’s murderer, who choked him to death, was not at fault because Garner died “from being morbidly obese.” Things like this continue to occur because of widely-accepted societal myths about fat people, the same myths that Williamson perpetuates.
“Sickness is not a sign of God’s judgment on us, but of our judgment on ourselves,” she writes in A Return to Love. It is instead “an illusion and does not actually exist.” Williamson co-founded the Los Angeles Center for Living with Louise Hay in the 1980s, which is intended to be a place for spiritual healing, meditation, and other “non-medical services,” seemingly specifically aimed at people with terminal illnesses and chronic health conditions. Through their work together, they endangered countless people with cult-ish pseudoscience, especially gay men fighting AIDS who were told that they could cure themselves through visualization.
Williamson describes cancer and AIDS in A Return to Love as “physical manifestations of a psychic scream” and a desperate call to be loved by the world, because “[s]eeing sickness as our own love that needs to be reclaimed, is a more positive approach to healing than seeing the sickness as something hideous we must get rid of.” According to Williamson, AIDS “can be thought of as Angels-In-Darth Vader-Suits” and she goes on to describe a scenario in which one unzips the Dark Father’s iconic black suit in order to release a light-imbued angel trapped within. I wish I were bullshitting you.
Yes, I know Williamson is still polling at less than 1%. I understand that the possibility of her being elected or even winning a Democratic nomination is incredibly slim and near impossible at this point. Even so, it’s important to hold someone with as much public attention as her accountable for her dangerous ideologies that can cause tangible harms and further stigmatize already marginalized people.
We absolutely have to take fatphobia and ableism seriously, and include them in our fight for Black liberation because they are linked with anti-Blackness. Fatphobia and ableism are both tools of white supremacy which have been used to dehumanize and mistreat Black people for centuries while bolstering the white superiority mythos. Marianne Williamson’s words on reparations mean absolutely nothing to me when I take into account every other fucked up thing she’s said or written, and when I consider how someone like her in a position of leadership would be especially detrimental to Black folks.