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Everybody just get off Regina Benjamin’s back

Submitted by on Thursday, 23 July 2009 2 Comments

regina_benjaminWhy is it that President Barack Obama can’t nominate a woman – particularly a woman of color – for anything without someone creating a big hoo-ha over nothing?

First we had to debate Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s proclamation that she’s a “wise Latina.” What, we’d rather have a dumb Latina? Oh, I forgot. The people creating the ruckus would rather not have a Latina at all.

Now major news networks are scouring pictures of surgeon general nominee Regina Benjamin, speculating on her weight and dress size and asking whether a person who appears to be overweight should be surgeon general.

Isn’t it great that we live in an age when the content of your closet matters more than the credentials on your resume?

I’m ready to pop popcorn for Benjamin’s confirmation hearing – no butter, of course, in case I’m ever nominated for anything.

“Dr. Benjamin, are you too fat to be surgeon general?”

I don’t know which Senate Health Committee member is going to ask that question, but it better be a skinny one lest, “Senator, are you too fat to serve on this committee” be Benjamin’s quick response.

The funniest thing – funny in the sense of odd, because this isn’t at all humorous – is the assumption that overweight equals unhealthy. It doesn’t, any more than heroin chic equals fit.

But because we have an undisputed obesity epidemic, critics say Benjamin’s  appearance matters. Which is nonsense. Heck, the job hardly matters. The surgeon general sets no policy and draws little attention.

Can you name any of George W. Bush’s surgeons general? Any of the four, be he acting or otherwise? How many can you even recall in your adult life, other than C. Everett Koop and Joycelyn Elders?

By all accounts, Benjamin is a skilled doctor devoted to improving health-care access for the poor and in rural areas. She’s served on the board of the American Medical Association. She rebuilt her tiny Alabama clinic after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it.

And she’s forthright about the struggles in her own family with preventable diseases. According to the Huffington Post, her father died with diabetes and high blood pressure, her brother of HIV. Her mother died of lung cancer because “she wanted to smoke just like her twin brother,” who’s now on oxygen.

So is the problem really a few extra pounds or is it that Benjamin might back abortion rights? Or is it just that women nominated to national positions make easy targets?

I’ll rule out the first option. You decide which of the other two is the real issue folks are having with Benjamin.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Tam said:

    The reply of ‘Senator, are you too fat to serve on this committee?’ is the perfect response. Discrimination is discrimination. It doesn’t matter what the focus is, i.e. race, appearance, religion, sexual preference, etc., discrimination is wrong. (One could also ask, ‘Senator are you too male to serve on this committee? Too white? Too…?’)

    Let them feel the heat… continue fighting back and exposing it to the light of day. Sunlight is the best sanitizer… Hate exists in a vacuum. Break the vaccuum. Speak up, say something, act on your beliefs that all people are equal and deserve to be treated as such. When we choose to take a step forward by changing our personal attitudes to something more positive then the whole world benefits.

    The words and attitudes coming out of the Republican party are filled with ugliness and discouragement. ENOUGH! I am relieved to say that I no longer am a re…re…repu…a right winger. (I can’t believe I ever got sucked in. I had to turn off so MANY of my brain cells to be a Repub…)

    As for WHY? the Repubs do what they do? Anything that is different is bad and should not be allowed to exist. (

    (Said in my best white, male republican voice: ‘Also, if we let those latina and fat black women in, we’ll all be eating collard greens & fried chicken and watching novellas on that thar mexican tv.’ JUST KIDDING!)

    Good post, Deb. Thanks!

  • Debra said:

    You’re welcome! This situation just really steamed me because Dr. Benjamin is SO imminently qualified for the position and so well-versed in dealing with the most serious problems in health care today – access, particularly in low-income and rural areas.

    If she’d been embezzling from her clinic – fine, attack. If she were a document advocate of medicinal leeches – fair game. But she’s not. She’s highly qualified, so the only thing left to go after is her dress size. Ridiculous!