In all the attention surrounding Nelson Mandela’s funeral, the media have consistently focused on three things, none of which have anything to do with Mandela or his legacy:
1) Is it appropriate for President Obama to pose for a selfie during a funeral?
2) Who the heck is that fake sign language guy up on the podium?
3) Why does Michelle Obama look so angry?
For the third question, commentators have been quick to jump on the bandwagon to criticize Mrs. Obama for her seemingly intense expression. In a helpful article, Salon writer Roxane Gay incisively summed up the negative coverage:
At the Washington Post: “The first lady looks stern — dare we say disapproving? — throughout.” In the New York Daily News Michelle Obama “sat at a distance, as if in disapproval of the digital display.” Someone at Business Insider quipped, “That stare can kill.” The headline at The Huffington Post boldly declares “Michelle Obama is having none of it.” Over at D.C. political blog Wonkette, “Michelle Obama Pissed, Y’all.”
Gay’s article goes on to suggest that the media’s perception of the First Lady’s facial expression says a lot about what society expects of women in general (be unfailingly pleasant, smile at all times, etc.) and black women in particular (never, ever look pissed off in public).
The speculation has been rampant: Mrs. Obama is angry because her husband is flirting with a Danish white woman . . . she is angry because her husband doesn’t know how to behave respectfully at a funeral . . . she is angry because Mandela was denied access to fresh vegetables during his years in prison . . . . she is just angry.
And all this speculation is ridiculous, because I happen to know – based on my own close and intimate non-friendship with Mrs. Obama, whom I have never met — exactly what she was thinking:
My mom had better crack the homework whip on Sasha and Malia while I’m out of town. Grandmas! They’ll let kids get away with anything. I’d better call home soon to see about that math assignment.
And hey, what’s with the weird sign language guy up on the podium?