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Michelle Obama talks hair and the “angry black woman” stereotype on final “2 Dope Queens”

Michelle Obama talks hair and the “angry black woman” stereotype on final “2 Dope Queens”
[Photo: courtesy of Chuck Kennedy/WNYC]

Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams saved the best for the last episode of 2 Dope Queens. The two hosts sat down with former First Lady Michelle Obama to talk about her new memoir Becoming, her struggle with the “Angry Black Female” stereotype, her hair journey, and what she meant when she said, “When they go low, we go high.” Since this is 2 Dope Queens, they didn’t just stick to politics; they also requested answers to the question of our time: Would you rather go to a Beyoncé concert or have brunch with Oprah? (Since she’s Michelle Obama, she probably has done both.)

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During the course of the wide-ranging conversation, Williams asked Obama about the “angry black woman” stereotype she discusses in her book. “[I]f you’re a woman and you’re too angry, people stop hearing the point,” Obama said. “They don’t hear you. And I’d love to be able to get in [and] change that, but the truth is that people will hear things differently from me. I will do one thing and somebody else will do the exact same thing, and it will be interpreted completely differently.”

Obama also noted that the double standard is still firmly in place, particularly between what she or her husband could say in the White House versus what is said by the Oval Office’s current occupant. “There’s a lot of anger being expressed these days and I just think, man, if I ever said that … if I said those three words, it would all be over,” she said on the podcast. “And those words are said every day, all day, these days.”

Her husband, Barack Obama, faces similar issues. “His even-keeled temper is not just cause he’s calm and cool and not emotional,” she explained. “It’s just like, you know, brother can’t get too angry if he wants to move things forward. He doesn’t have the leeway to solve problems with anger… And that remains true for women and minorities.”

Obama knows that anger isn’t always an effective tool for change, though, which is why she came up with her now-famous phrase, “When they go low, we go high.”

“I’m not gonna pretend like I’m not angry. But if I’m trying to move an issue, if my anger doesn’t work to move the issue, then it’s not helpful,” she said. “And that’s what going high means. Going high means you don’t ignore it. Going high doesn’t mean you don’t acknowledge the fear… Usually your goal isn’t to just be angry.” While she doesn’t “deny the feeling exists,” she tries to “separate [her] anger from the point.”

Fans of 2 Dope Queens know that the hosts frequently talk about their hair, so of course they asked Obama what it was like keeping her hair looking so impeccable in the White House, because as Obama said, “this wasn’t just a first lady journey, this was a black professional women’s journey.” Obama said she tried a “little bit of everything–braids, weaves, wigs, extensions,” whatever it took to keep her hair styled while she went through the day-to-day of living publicly. “You gotta have hair and clothes that can transition from doing pushups on the floor with Bishop Tutu, which I did by the way. He challenged me to a pushup contest,” she said.

As for brunch with Oprah or a Beyoncé concert, well, she’s down for either or both, but when pressed, she would pick the brunch, not because she doesn’t love Beyoncé concerts, but she loves to have a conversation more and “You can’t do that at a concert.”

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