Among my favorite of the prominent African-Americans featured in HBO’s “The Black List” is Kara Walker, an artist known for her haunting silhouettes depicting the violence of slavery. In her interview, she reveals her frustration as a Black artist is always perceived through stereotypes: “As a Black artist you can paint a wall of smiley faces, all right, and somebody will ask you, “why are you so angry?”
Angry Black woman. It’s a stereotype no Black woman can seem to escape, not even the First Lady. Yesterday, Michelle Obama debunked accusations made in an upcoming book, “The Obamas,” by New York Times reporter Jodi Cantor. Cantor characterizes Mrs. Obama as causing conflict and friction within the White House.
In an interview with Gayle King on CBS’ “This Morning,” Mrs. O said, “I guess it’s more interesting to imagine this conflicted situation here and a strong woman and — you know? But that’s been an image that people tried to paint of me… that I’m some angry Black woman.”
Oh, how I wish Mrs. Obama’s much-anticipated first book, “American Grown,” was about what she feels and how she deals, instead of gardening (which I’ll be picking up anyway even though I live in Brooklyn. Maybe I can grow an herb or two on the fire escape? I digress…) Surely, Mrs. O may write an autobiography some day, and much like I did with former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s ‘tell-most, but not all,’ I’ll clamor to get to the bookstore for a copy. Because of if there’s one question that I consistently wonder about the First Lady — even before “where did she get that [insert item of clothing of jewelry here] — it’s how she keeps from going under or going off when she’s been given so many reasons to.
Mrs. Obama has been caricatured in a magazine as a camouflage-rocking, rifle-toting naptural who’s been conspiring with her husband to bring America to its knees. Politicians freely comment on her backside as if she’s Venus Hottentot on display. Her children are criticized in newspapers. She, a wife, has been referred to as a “baby mama.” And this is scratching the surface. If ever in the history of Blackdom there was a Black woman that had a reason to be angry, it is Michelle Obama. And yet, she isn’t.
Somewhere around the time Mrs. Obama came under fire for trying to get children in shape, I realized that for some, nothing she does will ever be considered a Goldilocks-esque “just right.” There will always be those who overlook the countless images of her hugging on and reading to school children, a proud mother gushing over her growing girls, and as a supportive wife standing beside her husband. Some folk, unable to expand their minds to account for a Black woman that doesn’t fit conveniently into their stereotype, will try to stuff her into the place they’ve created anyway out of hate or just plain ignorance. That Michelle Obama wakes up everyday and faces so much of both, and with a smile?
Just how can anyone interpret that as angry?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk