I didn’t watch the Inauguration, because f*ck that noise.
But I did stay on Twitter and was delighted to see the side eyes and glances from a former First Lady who was clearly over it all. As soon as Donald Trump’s speech was over, the internet rushed out GIFs and memes of Michelle Obama not wanting any part of the Inauguration events. I joined in with the laughter and rejoiced over the fact that there’s nothing more real than a Black woman with something on her mind.
However, the more I looked at Michelle Obama’s face, the curled up nose, the pursed lips, the eyes that couldn’t hide her disdain, the more I felt sad and guilty. Because this is the same face my wife has made on too many occasions.
An unfortunate and omnipresent reality of being a Black man is the fact that we will go through our daily lives enduring disrespect and seemingly unending attempts to diminish our worth.
Oftentimes this comes from our White counterparts, but also from Black folk who don’t want better for one another or themselves. And too often I’ve had to come home to my wife and tell her about the abuse, mental anguish and pain I’ve felt simply trying to live my life as a Black man. I’ve dumped these emotions on her without really any concern for how it affects her to see someone she loves going through so much hurt.
And I’ve often avoided answering her when she asks, in as kind terms as possible, why I continue to subject myself to abuse. When the fact is, I’ve been too scared or insecure to leave jobs, editors or environments that have made me feel inadequate because I wasn’t strong enough. Or brave enough. Or confident enough to liberate myself despite my wife trying her hardest to embolden me to take the steps she believed I was capable enough to take.
The expressions carry more pressures than I face as a Black man
As a result, I come home and repeat the same routine of unloading my hurt onto her while she has had to swallow her frustration at my weaknesses and continue to be my rock. All of this happens while my wife has to deal with her own abuses and subjugation at the hands of the rest of the world. The whole world’s pressures are lain on top of her, which are far worse than any pressures I face as a Black man.
But that doesn’t stop me from asking her to face the same people who hurt me. Whether it be some kiss ass corporate function, retreat or banquet, there’s always some event I drag my wife to and ask her to put up an act. And she has to smile at the same people who are causing so much pain. And she’s asked to contain her feelings, which is a herculean task. So what happens? Her feelings are strewn across her face whether she wants them to or not.
I look at Michelle Obama’s expression and see a woman who has to go through the same thing as my wife, or any Black woman, but on a larger scale. By all accounts, it was Michelle Obama who tried to encourage her husband to be more forceful with race relations and to push back on the GOP. All the while she was the victim of her own cocktail of misogyny and racism — she’s been called a monkey, for instance, since she became a public figure.
Michelle Obama’s expressions convey pain
And she’s had to watch her husband acquiesce to these same racists, then come home and dump his hurt onto her while she wonders why he isn’t strong enough to change his circumstance. But he’s too scared. Too insecure. Too worried that pushing back on the people who hurt him will lead them to turn their backs on him, so he keeps smiling, hiding a special brand of pain that he only shares with his wife. And the cycle continues.
And then he asks his wife to face the people who have hurt him so much. And there she stands, amongst the culmination of all of the hurt she and her husband have endured, forcing herself to try to find a smile she just can’t muster. Thus we get the memes and images of a fed the hell up First Lady.
One reason Michelle Obama’s reactions were so hilarious was because they were so relatable. They were the facial expressions of a Black woman who’d had enough trying to pretend the corroded lemons in front of her were lemonade. I don’t want to presume to know what Barack Obama is thinking, but I know that when I’ve seen my wife with the “Michelle Face,” I instantly think about how much more I could have and should have done to stop her from having to make it. How if I were stronger, we could have avoided putting her in those positions.
I wonder if My President saw Michelle’s face and thought about how he didn’t press Republicans harder, call out explicit racism against him and his wife, or challenge the country more to face its own history as an oppressive, evil place and maybe it could have changed things. Maybe if he’d done those things he wouldn’t have to endure that look on his wife’s face.
Because even taking into account the hellish nightmare we’ve lived over the past few months, I can imagine the worst outcome of all of this for Mr. Obama was having to watch his wife struggle to hold in the hurt she’s had to endure for far too long.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and editor based out of Atlanta (but it’s still WHO DAT all day). He’s an adjunct professor at Morehouse College and an editor at Moguldom Media. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Playboy, CNN Money, The Source, Complex.com, ESPN’s The Undefeated and wherever people argue about things on the Internet. He’s a New Orleans Press Club award recipient and has been cited in Best Music Writing. He’s also a proud alum of Davidson College.