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.