More than anything, the response to these latest images of Michelle Obama speaks volumes about the expectations placed on black women in the public eye and how a black women’s default emotional state is perceived as angry. The black woman is ever at the ready to aggressively defend her territory. She is making her disapproval known. She never gets to simply be.
Maybe the first lady is irritated with her husband or someone else, maybe she’s indifferent, maybe she’s thinking about the long plane ride home, maybe, just maybe, she’s recalling Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy. We will never know.
Meanwhile, the Internet is speculating about Michelle Obama’s mind-set, her motivations and the state of her marriage because if a married black man, always on the prowl even if he is the commander in chief, is seen smiling next to an attractive white woman, well, that’s curtains for the marriage. The white she-devil strikes again! The first lady can’t win. Last month, Michelle Obama was a “feminist nightmare.” Today she is angry and on the verge of losing her marriage. We can only imagine what tomorrow will bring.
And of course, there is another image that simply isn’t being shared with the same frequency or enthusiasm—one of Michelle Obama sitting with her husband and the Danish prime minister laughing and smiling openly. We are selective in what we choose to see. This image is being ignored because it doesn’t fit the narrative we want. There is also an image, shared by Goldie Taylor, of Laura Bush looking unamused while her husband speaks to a beautiful woman in the row behind them. Is she disapproving? Is she worried about her marriage? Is she “having none of it”? Or is she just sitting?
Though in most cases, the selfie allows us to turn the camera on ourselves, President Obama’s selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service was a mirror, reflecting the biases people may not even realize they hold.”
Last night I thought I kissed the loneliness from out your belly button. I thought I did, but later you sat up, all bones and restless hands, and told me there is a knot in your body that I cannot undo. I never know what to say to these things. “It’s okay.” “Come back to bed.” “Please don’t go away again.” Sometimes you are gone for days at a time and it is all I can do not to call the police, file a missing person’s report, even though you are right there, still sleeping next to me in bed. But your eyes are like an empty house in winter: lights left on to scare away intruders. Except in this case I am the intruder and you are already locked up so tight that no one could possibly jimmy their way in. Last night I thought I gave you a reason not to be so sad when I held your body like a high note and we both trembled from the effort.
Some people, though, are sad against all reason, all sensibility, all love. I know better now. I know what to say to the things you admit to me in the dark, all bones and restless hands. “It’s okay.” “You can stay in bed.” “Please come back to me again.”
WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
…Personal change doesn’t equal social change.”