Query: Why can’t Michelle Obama get mad?

First, the caveat: I have not read, nor do I plan to read, the book about which everyone is now buzzing, Jodi Kantor’s The Obamas.

But one of the narratives that has floated to the surface in discussions surrounding the book is the old, old argument that Michelle Obama is An Angry Black Woman. She clashed with Rahm Emmanuel, we’re told. She declared life in the White House to be “hell.” She is, herself, hell on wheels.

And you know what? I don’t know. I will say that I don’t think reading The Obamas will really help me any, given that many of the parties involved are calling it a bunch of hooey. (Emmanuel, for one, has said it’s complete nonsense to suggest that he and FLOTUS fought, and Michelle Obama has said that there has “never been a cross word” between her and the ex-Chief of Staff. Both have asserted that they and their spouses are “dear friends,” and who am I to think they’re all lying a very carefully coordinated lie?)

The fact that Michelle Obama strikes me as funny, warm, generous, and wildly intelligent is neither here nor there. I don’t know her. I have in the past had a certain impression of famous people only to find something very different when actually meeting said famous people. It’s not unheard of.

But I will say this: Whatever else Mrs. Obama may be, she is human.

No, I know!

She is human, and human beings occasionally get angry. They occasionally say cross words, or frequently say cross words, sometimes at people they both love and respect.

Moreover, Michelle Obama was a successful lawyer well before most of America had ever heard of her, and it has not been my impression in a life lived in the upper middle class that successful lawyers are either shy and retiring, or unwilling to express an opinion.

And furthermore, Michelle Obama is a human lawyer who came from a lower middle class background and just so happens to be black and a woman. Which is to say that it’s nearly guaranteed that she had to work harder and longer and against greater odds than a great number of other human lawyers. And she may or may not have even better reasons to be angry than some.

I don’t know how you grow up female and black in this country without being at least a little angry, for instance. (I’m a white woman and I’m not going to disavow my anger; why should she have to, if she has any?)

I don’t know how you move through life with professional and political ambitions without being at least occasionally argumentative.

I don’t know how you live with other people without occasionally getting really pissed off.

Why do we want, so badly, to deny Michelle Obama her humanity?

I know, I know: She’s black. There’s a trope, a dangerous and damaging stereotype rooted in nearly three centuries of racism, oh my God she hates ‘murica and she’s an Angry Black Woman! And I also know that any woman who’s strong and refuses to pretend to be otherwise (regardless of color) is oh my God such a bitch! Rawr! And I likewise know that our political families are supposed to, somehow, embody every lovely thing that Americans like to see in people. Remember when poor Hillary Clinton had to bake cookies? I don’t know, maybe she likes baking, but I have a feeling that it wasn’t always first on the list.

So no worries: I actually do know why we want to deny Michelle Obama her humanity. The reasons are as myriad as they are idiotic and oppressive.

But I, for one, am comfortable with the notion that strong-willed people — even really, really nice ones — are occasionally unpleasant (here’s a thought: I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Obama’s husband, a man I greatly admire and would very much like to meet, is a total dick now and then. I have a feeling it’s in the job description). I’m comfortable with the notion that women can be strong-willed, and willing to acknowledge that black women have excellent reasons to be angry, reasons that may at any given moment be based in their nation’s history of racism, or merely in having had a bad day.

So I say: Mrs. Obama? If you’re ever angry? Go ahead. It’s your God-given right as a member of the human race.

And sometimes it’s what the world needs.



  1. David L

     /  January 11, 2012

    You could not pay me enough to want be FLOTUS (or the one I’d actually be, First Whatever You Call a Man Who’s Married to the President). Give up your own career, live in a museum/government office building/heavily-guarded fortress, and then get attacked for being too passive (Laura Bush) or too opinionated (Hillary C. & Michelle O.)

    • No kidding. But then I usually think that being famous sounds like a horrible gig in general.

    • SWNC

       /  January 12, 2012

      And don’t forget–have cartoons drawn of you, your every move scrutinized by people who hate you because of who your husband is, have gossipy books written analyzing your private life…. it sounds wretched. And Michelle Obama pulls it off with grace, style and dignity.

  2. dave in texas

     /  January 11, 2012

    First Consort? First Dude? It’ll probably be something boring, like First Spouse or somesuch.

    • David L

       /  January 11, 2012

      I believe “First Gentleman” has taken hold for husbands of governors.

      Back in ’08, Bill Clinton said he’d like to be known as “First Laddie”. Given the current connotation of the word in British English (things like Maxim are collectively referred to as “lad mags”), it would really work for him.

  3. CitizenE

     /  January 12, 2012

    First trophy hunk–Sarah Palin: a vote for Alaskan secession is a vote for Putin gazing down.

    In any case, like class inequality, Mrs. Obama’s anger would be better if it went on in quiet rooms.

    And just think of how much Mrs. Gingrich resembles Jack Nicholson as the Joker, That woman is just a little too happy looking, don’t you think? But then her husband is one angry white man; I’d probably plaster a smile on my face if I were her.

  4. corkingiron

     /  January 12, 2012

    I’ve had conversations like this with well-intentioned but annoying persons (AP):

    AP: Why are you mad?

    Me: (taken aback) I’m not. What made you think that?

    AP: Are you sure? Cuz you were acting mad.

    Me: Whaaaa? I didn’t say anything!

    AP: Yeah. That’s my point. You go all quiet when you’re mad.

    Me: I go all quiet when I have nothing to say too. It doesn’t mean I’m mad.

    AP: Oh haha! You? You always have something to say! That’s why I’m pretty sure you’re mad about something……


    AP: See. I knew it…….

  5. If only she had the leeway to say “You want to see me mad? I’ll SHOW you mad. . . .”

  6. BJonthegrid

     /  January 12, 2012

    I get mad frequently, then I get unmad, sometimes I apologize. I was taught this was normal.

    These political writers all have one thing in common – they’ve read “Julius Cesear” one too many times. Everything has to have intrique, sex and betrayal. The Obama No Drama Administration has been a failure for these writers – except for the Sahalis there has been no surprises and no drama.

  7. I personally am tired of being allowed to act like an angry white 40something male…

  8. CitizenE

     /  January 12, 2012

    Unlike most of you, today I received an email from the President of the United States. This phenomenon, unless there is some odd name rather than the President’s attached, which like his wife’s demeanor, my role model, never trifles my ruffles however (I mean, just as I am always amazed at how God speaks to me by calling my number on my cell, I understand that I am specially blessed when the President himself is the one taking the time to ask me for $20 or just my vote of approval–it makes me feel so special and unique), and I have to rescue the Presidential missive from my spam file, never fails, as I have said, to make me feel so special and unique. With a husband that is so thoughtful, why in the world would anyone, much less the lake-surface on a windless day calm Mrs. O, ever have call to get angry?

    In today’s email, titled FLOTUS, he joked around about the acronym FLOTUS, the way he’s managed to slip it into his sweet nothing whispers in her ear (and how she, feisty as she is, shhhhhhh, takes umbrage)—a bit of eww, tmi, but still….

    Apparently her birthday is coming up–she’s an Aquarius, explains everything don’t you think–and like the good husband he is, invited me–provided a link even–to wish her a happy birthday, so here goes:

    Dear FLO
    I just want to tell you happy birthday and how much I just love your biceps, must drive Barry crazy, them, and any time you want to go off on Rahm Emmanuel and whoop his sorry ass, please do. A pinch to grow an inch, a smile to grow a mile.

    Butterflies and rainbows. And just between you and me, I like your emails better (let’s just keep that our secret from all the biographers, okay?)

    I urge you all to look into your spam file, so that you, too, might have the magical opportunity to participate in the wonder of our high tech People magazine world. Probably for those of you into social networking, you can take care of this on facebook, or better yet, twitter your greetings.

    I know you and I just can’t wait till we get to the Hallowe’en celebration for his children http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/405669/january-10-2012/malice-in-blunderland because their lives are the lives we vicariously live through.

    • I… well, first of all, I ❤ you more than I can rightly say right now.


  9. I want her to be the Angry Black Lady. I know, it’s not in the cards, because of the decorum a First Lady is supposed to exude, but I want her to feel free to cut loose and launch vituperative lightning bolts at every racist, misogynist, birther, and holier-than-thou Christian that chooses to denigrate her, her family, and her husband. I would love to see her step to a podium, clench the sides of it tightly, lean into her microphone, fix her gaze on the audience, and lay into every single lie spoken about her husband’s administration. I want her to do it articulately, with aplomb, but with a hinted-at and barely-restrained urge to chop up his detractors and use them to fertilize the White House vegetable garden.

    Oh, if only…

  10. sue swartz

     /  January 16, 2012

    I recommend a listen to the Fresh Air interview with Jodi Kanter. While the idiot commentators might focus on whether Michelle Obama is angry, the author of the book paints a much more complicated, delightful, and (dare I say?) human portrait. I came away loving the FLOTUS more than ever. http://www.npr.org/2012/01/10/144324472/michelle-and-barack-obama-a-powerful-partnership