Is Dr. Regina Benjamin Too Fat to Be Surgeon General

America wants a smoking hot surgeon general. Who knew?

Apparently (based on reports from media outlets like FoxNews and ABC News), the new surgeon general nominee — Dr. Regina Benjamin — is not a good candidate for the job because she is slightly overweight. Really. It’s a good thing that people weren’t thinking about that when her “not-so-hot” predecessors were in office. I suspect that we would not have had any surgeon generals if that were the case. I liked the guy, but Dr. C. Everett Koop? Come on.

Benjamin, a 52-year-old family practice doctor who has dedicated her life to the poor by working in rural and impoverished areas, is seemingly not fit to be surgeon general because she is supposedly “unfit.”

Benjamin founded the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in 1990 in the fishing village of Bayou La Batre, Ala., where she also serves as CEO. Many of the patients lack health insurance, and about a third are immigrants from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The clinic was heavily damaged by Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It also burned to the ground several years ago. Benjamin rebuilt the clinic after each setback and has continued to offer medical care to the village’s 2,500 residents. This is a woman who still makes house calls. This is a woman who mortgaged her house twice to rebuild clinics and drove around in a pickup truck treating patients. She’s not fit to be surgeon general because she’s “unfit”?

Benjamin received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant for treating patients in the Gulf Coast region regardless of their ability to pay. She is the first African-American woman to serve on the board of the American Medical Association, former associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama’s College of Medicine and former president of the State of Alabama Medical Association. She was tapped because of her focus on prevention in her treatment of patients.

In her acceptance of the nomination, according to a CNN report this month, Benjamin spoke about the toll of preventable illness as the reason why her family was not with her at the announcement. “Her father died with diabetes and high blood pressure; her older brother and only sibling died at age 44 of an HIV-related illness; her mother died of lung cancer after taking up smoking as a girl; her mother’s twin brother could not attend because he is at home ‘struggling for each breath’ after a lifetime of smoking.”

This is a woman who is going it alone, tending to the needs of everyone, except herself, which is something that many women face in general and black women face specifically. Maybe this is why she’s “slightly overweight”?

Black women are the caretakers of the world and while we are taking care of everyone, no one is taking care of us. Dr. Regina Benjamin is an example of this common experience in the lives of black women.

That’s why it is so interesting that people are actually pretending to give a damn about her health. Since when did the health of black women become important? Breast cancer. Diabetes. Heart disease. You name it and we’re more likely to die from it.

Why do we care about Dr. Benjamin’s health now? In spite of all of her accomplishments and service to the community, at the end of the day, she is not supposed to have a position like this. She can take care of the world, but she cannot be the chief caretaker of the world. How ironic.

I find it interesting that people are not asking why she’s overweight. Poor health is tied to economics and the availability of healthy food items that are affordable. Dr. Benjamin did not grow up with money, so perhaps that is a contributing factor to her being plump. Heck, we all know what we need to do, but very few of us are doing it, which is why the average size of an American woman is 14. Most of us are not nearly as productive as Dr. Benjamin, but we’re still chunky. Instead of condemning Dr. Benjamin, perhaps people should support her and encourage her to make time for herself.

But that can’t happen. She’s a black woman. She’s supposed to give every ounce of her being to others, sacrifice her entire life, personal and otherwise, have the privilege of spending her life without a partner/spouse (she is unmarried like many dynamic, professional black women) and be rewarded with an early death. On top of that, she’s supposed to look like Halle Berry? Give me a break.

I think it’s interesting that some find this round, black woman to be scary. I guess fat, black women are only acceptable when making others laugh, or when we’re the butt of the joke. I thought America loved plump, black women — with all of the films and television shows that include them. I guess it’s OK to be fat and black when you’re pumping millions of dollars into a perverted media industry. Hell, movie studios even pay black men millions of dollars to dress up as fat black women in order to make the world laugh.

The way that Dr. Regina Benjamin is being treated — pun intended — is no laughing matter.

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing where Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. serves as cultural critic. She is also managing editor of TheLoop21.com and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.

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Dr. Regina Benjamin: Big Momma’s White House

Well it seems that the love affair with fat, black women is over. Dr. Regina Benjamin, who is slightly overweight, has come under fire for being rotund. Why? Because she’s up for the Surgeon General’s position and should offer a better visual representation.  Wow. After predecessors like Dr. C. Everett Koop, we want our 2nd African-American woman Surgeon General to look like Halle Berry. Awwwwwww. How cute? The fact that folks would rather focus on her one flaw (if indeed being slightly overweight is a flaw since the average American woman is a size 14) is quite tragic. You know you are truly qualified when people have to sink that low to find something “wrong” with a candidate who is so “right.” Double chin up Dr. Benjamin. You pretty much rock and anyone who doesn’t think so because you’re a little chubby, can kick rocks.

Walter Cronkite Signs Off

Legendary journalist Walter Cronkite has died. “The most trusted man in America” passed away from a brain illness at 92 years of age. “Uncle Walter” sat at the helm of CBS News (1962-1981), creating a style of journalism and establishing a standard of excellence that has yet to be matched.

As a child, I remember watching Cronkite deliver the news. He was direct, gave you the facts and closed each show with “and that’s the way it is” — because that’s the way it truly was.

There was little to no editorializing — just the facts, plain and simple. Unlike today where news reporting and opinion live side by side, Cronkite made sure that the distinction was plain. There was no muddying of the two, which is why people tuned in to see him. His voice was a steady, throaty baritone, unmatched by anyone in news (with the possible exception of the late Charles Kuralt), and his calm delivery reassured America during trying times.

It was Cronkite who delivered the terrible news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. Choking back tears, he confirmed the country’s greatest fear that indeed Kennedy was dead. The man, who insisted that news be delivered in a steady, non-partisan manner, visibly fought back tears, reflecting the pain that many Americans felt. Cronkite tapped into the hearts and minds of America, uniting with them in sorrow over the loss of a president.

When I say America, I mean all of America. He was beloved by many because of his ability to bring controversial and painful topics to the forefront. His coverage of Vietnam and the civil rights movement brought people together at a time when this country was tearing itself apart. He insisted on delivering the truth, no matter how painful it was.

After returning from Vietnam in 1968, Cronkite aired a news special, pronounced the war effort a “stalemate,” and suggested that a negotiated peace agreement needed to happen. After the special, President Lyndon B. Johnson reportedly said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.”

This is how trusted Walter Cronkite was; if he said it, people believed it. Many journalists agree that his coverage of the civil rights movement is considered to be the most fair and objective on the subject.

National Association of Black Journalists President Barbara Ciara, a television anchor in Norfolk, Va., said that Cronkite served as an inspiration to her growing up as he did to many black broadcast journalists. “Walter Cronkite set a standard for all of us to follow, which was the truth whether it was the struggle of the civil rights movement, the travails of the Vietnam War or questioning authority at its highest level,” said Ciara. “He was certainly a grandfather of journalism in its infancy and continued to make contributions throughout the rest of his life even into retirement.”

Walter Cronkite was admired by many not only because of his objectivity but also because of his love of news. He took his profession seriously and mastered the art of news gathering, delivery and interviewing.

One only had to witness the horror of watching the CBS Saturday morning anchors try to cover his death over the weekend. Thank God CBS had Katie Couric on the phone to help out the struggling morning show hosts who seemed distant, bored and lethargic when talking about this news icon.

Walter Cronkite is someone whom they should have known inside and out, and it was clear that they knew very little about him. He is the man who pioneered a medium that continues until this day. He is the first person to be called an “anchorman.” He covered all of the major news stories of his time, including the Apollo 11 moon landing, the 1968 Democratic National Convention ruckus, race riots and the Watergate trials of President Richard M. Nixon.

Who can forget when Cronkite was “speechless” upon the first moon landing? He was speechless and then giddy. Why? Because he loved the news.

Say what you will about Katie Couric, but she loves the news. Harry Smith, who thankfully joined the Saturday morning broadcast to help out the floundering morning show hosts, loves the news. Bob Schieffer loves the news. Morley Safer loves the news. Leslie Stahl loves the news. Dan Rather, former CBS news anchor who succeeded Cronkite, appeared on NBC to talk about Cronkite’s legacy. Like the others, Rather clearly loves the news. To love the news means that you love Walter Cronkite.

It is with this in mind that we say goodbye to a great journalist, who established a standard of excellence that has yet to be surpassed. He will forever be loved because “that’s the way it is.”

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where she serves as cultural critic. She is also managing editor for TheLoop21.com and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.

Reflections on the Death of Steve McNair

Last week, NFL great Steve McNair was laid to rest. A man who led a charmed life as an athlete, making history, setting records, coming from an HBCU in this day and age and taking his NFL expansion team to the Super Bowl only to lose in grand style.

McNair was the truth on the field and apparently off, performing community service, mentoring young players like Vince Young, and was a mainstay at his son’s football games. McNair seemingly never missed a game and could be seen on the sidelines every Friday during football season cheering on his boy.

The man, who had grown up poor and without a father in the household, made it his mission to be there for his sons and other young men — like his brother Fred had been there for his four brothers and him. Even an arrest in 2003 for driving under the influence could not undermine his reputation. It was clear to most that he was a good guy who made a bad decision. As was customary on the field for him, McNair would learn from his mistakes and not commit them again.

The murder of Steve McNair sent shockwaves throughout the country. He was young, talented and in great shape. To learn that he was dead was incomprehensible to many because, as one of the toughest quarterbacks to ever set foot on the field, he had survived tremendous tackles and was known to play superbly, especially while nursing injuries.

According to reports, he was killed by Sahel Kazemi, his 20-year-old girlfriend, while sleeping. She shot him twice in the head and twice in the chest before turning the gun on herself. By some accounts McNair was happily married with four sons (two with his wife and two from previous relationships). His life was a classic American success story. With the help of his older brother, he had risen from poverty to super success on and off the field, so why would he risk it all for an orgasm?

McNair joined the ranks of many successful and powerful people who destroyed their lives and the lives of others through extramarital relationships. Some say that McNair had every right to be dating Kazemi because he may have been “separated” from his wife. Just because one is separated does not mean that he or she has the right to behave in a way that brings shame to his family. He or she is still legally married and should keep that in mind, particularly when young people, especially sons, are looking up to him. Gallivanting around town with a young waitress, with whom you’re clearly playing, is not cool.

No, I’m not trying to judge McNair. People are full of contradictions, and you never know what’s going on in marriages. In addition to the many wonderful things that people learned from McNair’s life — strength, integrity, focus and commitment — they can also learn something from his tragic death.

Just because you can get away with something does not mean that you do it. How sad is it that the same qualities he possessed in his football and community endeavors did not apply to his romantic life. Imagine if he had approached love and romance with the same level of integrity, strength, commitment and focus to which he approached football? He could have been a champion off the field as well and that is the lesson in this tragedy.

Romantic relationships should not be any different than other relationships — professional, spiritual or familial. As an adult, playing with people’s emotions should be off the table. By the time you hit 36 years of age, you’ve seen all of the damage that this can cause, especially with young people. You’ve caused that kind of damage before and probably have been on the receiving end of it. Why continue to mistreat folks?

Kazemi’s family stated that they had met McNair on multiple occasions and that he had promised that he would leave his wife in order to marry Sahel. McNair’s family had never met Kazemi or heard of her. You don’t need Greg Behrendt or Steve Harvey to tell you that if you’re dating someone to the extent that they were dating each other — for more than six months — and you haven’t met the family that lives in the same city, you will not be marrying that person. At best, you’re the flavor of the month … and at worst you’re the jump-off.

It is sad when tragedies like this occur. Some say that McNair wasted his life by getting with this woman. But his life was not a waste and neither was hers because they have reminded us in life and death to put family first, and think more of ourselves and others.

I don’t feel sorry for McNair or Kazemi. I feel sad for their families, particularly McNair’s sons who must now permanently grow up without a father in the household, just like him.

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as pop cultural critic. She is also managing editor of TheLoop21.com and an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College in Md.

A Tribute Fit for a King

Today the world lays to rest one of the most gifted and talented geniuses in modern time. It is a sad day indeed, listening to commentators as they struggle to celebrate him while calling attention to his demons. Soledad O’Brien asked why he was so full of contradictions? I ask the question, “Who isn’t?”

We are all full of contradictions, which is what makes us interesting. I’m confused as to why everyone thinks a man like Michael Jackson would not be. As some display poor taste and judgment by demonizing this man at his memorial, I choose to remember him fondly for his unmatched contributions to the world of music.  He will be missed and hopefully some of the humanity that he showed the world, will be shown to him in the coming days. Afterall, he was a human being.

NCAA and NBA rules lead to pimping of athletes

OK. The hypocrisy must stop.

The NCAA and the NBA are in violation. The University of Southern California’s head basketball coach Tim Floyd recently resigned amid allegations that he gave $1,000 to basketball player O.J. Mayo’s handler, Rodney Guillory. When I heard the news, I thought to myself, “Just one grand?” If it is true, Mayo settled for much less than he’s worth to go to Trojan territory.

The NCAA must cease with these archaic rules and stop pretending that they are not in on the dirty little secret that is high stakes recruiting in college basketball. This is a practice that has gone on for many years; the NCAA knows it and turns a blind eye, unless someone has the misfortune of pissing someone off.

Out of all of the teams that recruited players last year, why are they targeting Tim Floyd? Maybe it is because they have been after USC’s football and basketball programs for years? Maybe it is because each year they must have a sacrificial lamb to give validity to the outdated rules and practices of the NCAA and to remind people that they operate with a moral compass? Yeah right.

So what if Floyd gave O.J. Mayo $1,000 to “sign” with USC? The millions that the NCAA and USC made off of him more than make up for it. Mayo was only on the squad for one year. Why? Because of another ridiculous rule: NBA-caliber high school players have to play college ball for one year before heading to the NBA. Why? So, the players can get the college experience, mature a bit and be protected in case of injury. If you threw up in your mouth a little bit when you read that last sentence, then you know the real deal.

Neither the NCAA nor the NBA give a hoot about these kids. You see how they so readily dismiss them if they get injured or make “youthful” mistakes during their time on the team. A guaranteed NBA contract and financial management course is what one needs to be “protected” in case of an injury, especially coming out of high school, particularly if he has lived in poverty his entire life.

The NBA and the NCAA are in bed together. While the NBA wants to control long-term labor costs, the NCAA wants to avoid billions in local and federal taxes, along with having marquee players to keep fans engaged and busy purchasing memorabilia. Oh, but the players can’t get paid while they’re driving billions of dollars to the NCAA and the Division I schools, respectively.

The NCAA gets to use the likeness of the players on video games and all sorts of advertising and collateral, but the players cannot get paid to “sign” with a specific team, hold a job while on the team (most can’t because of crazy practice and travel schedules), or be paid while their “work” is making money for major businesses through advertising and promotions. Slavery 2.0?

When that doesn’t work, they cast aspersions on whichever player or coach they need to hold up as a sacrificial lamb. Derrick Rose, anyone? Although he could have gone pro, he had to play one freakin’ year at Memphis. He won two high school state titles, went to the NCAA finals with the 2008 Memphis team and was named rookie of the year in the NBA. The NCAA had the bad manners to release his SAT scores while investigating a claim that someone else took the SAT for him. This allegation was met with great fanfare in the media, although Rose behaved much more maturely than the NCAA by not responding to the allegations — which were later dropped because of lack of evidence.

Sports writer Dan Wetzel said it best: “… young players have to play pretend before they can play ball. They have to pretend that amateurism rules can stop the wheels of capitalism. They have to pretend that an arbitrary thing like a minimum SAT score — which is never how the test was designed to be used — is a fair hurdle they need to clear to pursue their professional aspirations.”

These young basketball players, many of whom come from impoverished backgrounds, are used up until they can get to the NBA, if they’re lucky. Less than 3 percent of Division I college players will ever make it to the pros. If they aren’t going to allow high school players of Kobe Bryant’s, Dwight Howard’s, Kevin Garnett’s and O.J. Mayo’s caliber to go pro, then they should pay them something.

Perhaps if the NCAA was not so greedy, they could use payment as an incentive to stay in school for more than a year — then maybe the players would not be so pressed for money. I’m not saying that the players should make NBA money, but they should get a stipend or something, especially when the coaches and others are making millions of dollars. Is it really fair to be a part of a billion-dollar industry and to be paid nothing for it? Again, Slavery 2.0?

It is so interesting that the one-year rule that the NBA implemented does not apply to European players, just players from the United States. Racism 2.0? But that’s another column.

A little education never hurt anybody — I get that. And I would respect it if the NCAA truly thought highly of academics. They don’t, as evidenced by the grueling practices, schedules and travel that players must endure. Time in the classroom is secondary to athletic performance at Division I schools. Working “around” the system has always been a part of athletics, whether it be matters of eligibility; the exchange of money or services; or actual time spent in the classroom.

This post originally appeared on Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.

Examining the NFL’s so-called system of justice

I sure hope that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a saint — because his law-and-order approach to football is flawed at best and downright ridiculous at worst. The commissioner recently suspended NFL player Donté Stallworth indefinitely for his role in a DUI case that left a pedestrian dead.

Let me be clear, I am disgusted that Stallworth only got 30 days for taking a man’s life. Yes, he stayed with the victim at the scene of the crime, immediately admitted wrongdoing to the police officer and has shown nothing but remorse for hitting and killing a man while driving drunk. Stallworth reached a settlement with the victim’s family for an undisclosed amount of money, plead guilty to the crime, will be under house arrest for two years after serving his sentence, made a donation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and has lost his license for life. Yet and still, 30 days for taking someone’s life while driving drunk is too short.

Initial reports stated that the victim stepped in front of Stallworth’s vehicle, which was corroborated by witnesses; that may be why the judge was so lenient, coupled with the NFL player’s remorse, humility, willingness to cooperate with the justice system — and oh yeah, he’s a celebrity. In my mind, when you kill someone, even accidentally, while driving drunk, you should have to spend more than 30 days in jail. That’s just me. I’m not a lawyer or a judge, so I have to allow the justice system to do its thing, however flawed. I think that the justice system failed in this instance as it relates to Stallworth’s jail time, but it is what it is, whether he’s an average Joe or a celebrity.

Having said that, I do believe that the justice system exists for a reason and that the NFL should get out of the business of arbitrarily assigning further punishment to players. Commissioner Goodell spoke out against Stallworth suspending him from the league indefinitely. Even if the justice system goes soft on a criminal, it is not up to the NFL to go hard on him. I don’t think Stallworth should be suspended indefinitely, especially after he has paid his debt to society, which is what we ask of all Americans. I don’t think that professional athletes should be treated any differently.

I’m not saying that the NFL shouldn’t suspend Stallworth … but indefinitely? I feel the same way about Michael Vick. What he did was heinous, but he has paid his debt to society. He has been punished, so why must he continue to be punished by the NFL?

Just who is Roger Goodell? He must be perfect; and if he isn’t, he ought to be — based on how he wields his “gavel.” To show how imperfect the justice system is, Stallworth serves 30 days for killing a man, while Vick served two years for killing dogs. I am a dog owner and dog lover, but I would like for someone to spend more time in jail for killing me than for killing my dog. (And I love my pooty-wooty.)

I might agree with the commissioner’s punishment if he had consistency in how he dealt with players who commit crimes. I think it’s crazy that Michael Vick is suspended from the league indefinitely but Cornell Green of the Oakland Raiders is not, although he was arrested for slamming his girlfriend — the mother of his two children — into a wall and then beating her with an aluminum mop. Cedrick Wilson broke down a door and slapped his girlfriend in the face while arguing about whether to baptize their son. Falcons player Jonathan Babineaux was arrested and convicted for animal cruelty for bashing in the head of his girlfriend’s dog while they were arguing. Quinn Ojinnaka of the Falcons fought his wife after she confronted him about a woman on his Facebook page. For some reason, they are all still in the league.

Some of you are thinking that this is exactly why Commissioner Goodell needs to fine and suspend athletes. I’m thinking that this is exactly why he does not. It seems to me that his “moral barometer” is a little off and arbitrary. Why does he react so strongly to Vick and Stallworth, but remains silent in matters of domestic violence, which are far more prevalent in the NFL? I guess the justice system works all right when it comes to beating on wives and girlfriends, just not when it comes to beating on dogs.

Do you have to be charged with the crime or just accused of the behavior? When does one get suspended? Before or after being charged with a crime? If charges are dropped or the player is acquitted, should the NFL still punish the player? If so, how? What about the coaches? We won’t even mention the broadcasters.

My point is that the justice system is imperfect, and so is the NFL’s so-called system of justice. This is an organization that readily recruits thugs (some, not all) and criminals before they even set foot in the NFL. They know who many of them are before they get to the NFL, which is OK, as long as the NFL and owners can keep the money train rolling. If you don’t believe me, do a search of NFL players arrested and witness the ridiculous number of results.

Until Goodell and the NFL get some consistent guidelines for punishing crimes by players and coaches, and think about moral character when actually recruiting players, there will be no justice and no peace.

This post originally appeared in Creative Loafing where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.