The Washington Post

Who’s afraid to make fun of Michelle Obama? Not #BlackTwitter

Praise the comedy gods.

We’ve finally reached the moment in Barack Obama’s presidency where we can make fun of him and his family without looking over our shoulders, worried that we’ve inadvertently insulted the president in front of polite company.

Really, this moment arrived the night sketch comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele introduced Catendra, a loud, demanding, neck-rolling, bad-weave sporting counterpart to the president’s anger translator, Luther.

But it really became clear Tuesday, when #BlackTwitter had a field day with a series of photos from former South African president Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, the first being President Obama’s now- infamous selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

The selfie that begat a rousing round of “caption this.”

The first sparked interest — since when does presidential protocol endorse funeral selfies — but the subsequent photos offered a comedic goldmine: an affable, caddish-looking Obama chatting up Thorning Schmidt, as Michelle sat by, stony-faced, before they switched seats.

Whole story lines arose about what could be going on between the two members of black America’s most aspirational couple.

Which of course, prompted an obligatory “Scandal” reference:

Some of #BlackTwitter’s feminists were quick to decry the jokes, while others either joined in or remained agnostic.


I’ve done my fair share of railing against stereotypes of black women. They’re problematic when they become a crutch born of ignorance, or when they just don’t say anything new. And as always, context is key.

What happened Tuesday was the conversation you sit around having with your friends at a party, except it’s a giant inside joke, broadcast live on the Internet.

#BlackTwitter knows that Michelle Obama isn’t “some angry black woman” and it’s safe to say the hive is quick to close ranks and protect her when serious pejoratives are lobbed in her direction. We kid out of love; we know Michelle Obama is not walking around, barely obscuring a Pennsylvania Avenue edition of Beyoncé she-hulk lurking just beneath the surface of her toned arms and preternaturally fabulous hair.

People who buy into that sort nonsense are willfully obtuse.

Seriously, do we need to call on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes? If you don’t know by now that there’s nothing scary about Michelle Obama, you will never, never, never know her.

Most  of this debate hinges on respectability politics: Is it permissible to joke about Michelle’s stink-eye, or Barack flirting with the Danish PM, when, as Wanda Sykes would say, “white people are looking at you?”

Of course it is. Because the very people who demand this sort of performance, who insist that you jump through a never-ending set of hoops designed to determine whether or not you’re worthy of being treated as an equal, are people you will never be able to please and whose opinions are firmly entrenched. They are a lost cause. Stop courting them and their approval.


We do them a disservice when we treat the Obamas as brand ambassadors for Team Black People. Heaven forbid Michelle examine this latest media moment and determineS that, on top of everything else, she now needs to police her facial expressions. Besides, even President Obama has said that he needs Luther.

So, a little perspective: someone labels the first lady a “feminist nightmare?” By all means, pounce. But a little good-natured ribbing, among friends, made possible by an occurrence of “bitchy resting face?” Let’s give that one a pass.

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.
Next Story
Carla Baranauckas · December 13, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.