I don’t know where President Obama’s current approval rating stands, but I know my approval of the first lady just shot through the roof. Where Obama refuses to acknowledge the racism that underpins so many comments, voting choices, and actions set out against him, Michelle Obama just puts it out there plain and simple.
Speaking about New York Time’s reporter Jodi Kantor’s new book, The Obamas, Gayle King asks Mrs. Obama about her portrayal in the book as angry, unhappy, burdened, and frustrated by her position as first lady on “CBS This Morning.” Michelle Obama responds:
“That’s been an image people have tried to paint of me since the day Barack announced, that I’m some kind of angry black woman.”
It’s an image people try to paint on black women as a whole all the time. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t white, Asian, Latina, Indian, and all women feel angry, unhappy, burdened, or frustrated at some point in their lives? Don’t these women express that anger, unhappiness, and frustration? Don’t people often sympathize with their anger, unhappiness, and frustration? Why are those feelings suddenly grouped together as a permanent temperamental disposition to describe black women when we express those same emotions?
Offering a response that any mother in America can identify with, the first lady says:
“If there’s any anxiety that I feel, it’s because I want to make sure that my girls come out of this on the other end whole.”
“I just try to be me. … There will always be people who don’t like me.” But, she says, “Who can tell me how I feel?”
Michelle Obama is absolutely right. It’s no secret that society loves to limit black women’s expression. That limitation includes positive feelings of love, happiness, comfort with our bodies, and even sexual liberation, but we’re especially critiqued for sharing negative emotions, no matter how diplomatic we come across and how legitimate our concerns. I can recall incidents with a previous employer where I’d defended myself against false allegations and in doing so was told I was unprofessional, argumentative, and disrespectful—words no one had ever used to describe me, because quite frankly, I’m often more passive aggressive than I should be. When I reflected back on the situation, it was clear that the authority figures took any sort of attempt from a black woman at protecting one’s reputation or standing up for oneself as aggression or a personal affront. Yet, when I would point out the tone in which I was being spoken to by white women, I was asked whether the issue was my perception.
Even in romantic relationships, the first time a black woman raises a concern or issue, you can almost see the “great, I’ve got another angry black woman on my hands” thought bubble circling above the man’s head, if he isn’t so bold as to just go ahead and let those words come out of his mouth. There is an entire spectrum of emotions that grow in intensity from disappointment, to frustration, to full blown anger. Why is it always assumed any time we say something someone may not want to hear, our emotions are on 10?