Meshell Sturgis reviews The Rachel Divide and Fearing the Black Body


M.A. in Cultural Studies alum Meshell Sturgis ('17) studies representations of difference and identity in the media using Black feminist critical-cultural communication theories and methods. A Ph.D. candidate in the UW Department of Communication, Sturgis recently published reviews of the documentary film, The Rachel Divide, with co-author Victoria Thomas, and the book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia, by Sabrina Strings.

Sturgis and Thomas’s review of the Netflix documentary The Rachel Divide was published in the journal Women's Studies in Communication (2020). The film investigates Rachel Dolezal, an Africana studies instructor and Spokane chapter president of the NAACP, who is exposed for lying about being Black. Sturgis and Thomas contend that the film authenticates and legitimizes Dolezal’s experiences and claim of Blackness while failing to address the harm of cultural appropriation on the Black community and the social institutions and structures that uphold white supremacy.

Additionally, Sturgis reviewed Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobiby Sabrina Strings for Lateral: Journal of the Cultural Studies Association (2020).  Strings’ book argues that the origins of present day fat phobia can be traced to the history of racial slavery and elite white men’s ascription of the white woman’s body as representative of nationhood and morality in its svelte figure. The black woman’s body, ostensibly the complete opposite (i.e., obese and worthy of denigration), consequently became the basis for the favored white woman’s essentialized attributes. Sturgis views String’s book as “a much-needed historiographic intervention towards revealing and critiquing the embodied, biopolitical implications of race, as it operates in tandem with gender and sexuality, among other things.”

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