Last night many of us discovered that the #SOTU hashtag so many of us were trending may have very well been an acronym for “Shade of the Union”. And while I, like most Americans, have a wide-range of critiques of President Obama’s two terms in office, I simply cannot deny the finesse with which he deploys sarcasm and the ancient black art of “the read” as scathing tools against his would be foes. Today, in honor of that great history, I present to you the Top 10 Moments our first Black President, Barack Obama, has paid homage to the rich shade throwing legacy of our ancestors.
1) If we’re being honest, the now President started giving us hints to the type of thuggery that was in store for us well before he was officially sworn into office. In this video, we see what Barack has to say to those who would dare come for his wife, Michelle:
The moral of the story, Obama WILL flex on you if you don’t keep his wife’s name out your mouth.
2) And who can forget that moment where Obama had to remind the media why folks smoke weed?
Why waste a good blunt?
3) When forced to reply to unfounded rumors about his “real” birthplace Obama’s response was, Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That.
Note the pause mid eye-roll to drop knowledge on Brian Williams that American and Muslim aren’t mutually exclusive.
4) In a rare act of hateration, Obama inexplicably comes for famed footballer David Beckham…
Sources close to Barack say this is a #clapback for Beckham securing the underwear line Obama had clearly been vying for:
5) Barry reminds the attendees of Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women Summit” why he don’t need nobody’s presidential seal:
Whoever’s job that was can stay shook though.
6) Watch as Obama swerves on this inane Fox “News” reporter, who thought he had caught him out there for some reason:
No sir, you’d be wrong. Now watch how I get your peers to laugh at you.
7) In this clip the President swiftly puts yet another a too thirsty reporter in his place:
Clearly he had no idea who he was dealing with.
8) Obama is in the habit of verbally face-smacking and publicly shaming hecklers with no chill:
In the words of Tamar Braxton…
9) In a stunning take-down move, Obama delivers his most thorough response yet to the conspiracy theorists questioning his birthplace, among other critiques (if you don’t want to watch the entire 19 minutes, come for the birth certificate shade, but stay for the Donald Trump read):
The real gem here is the look on Donald Trump’s face.
10) Finally, we complete this list with the shade that almost broke the internet, last night’s State of the Union Address jab at the Republicans who dared to try and throw some shade of their own by clapping at the mention of Obama’s campaigning having finally come to an end.
“Yo this party is so crazy!”
Like, crazy how?
“Like outta control…”
A flashback: her mother’s pain-lined face & exasperated tone almost made her miss the deadness of her eyes. “I want her out of here! She’s crazy and I don’t have any control over anything she does.” it occurs to the child that a desire for control over something (anything) & that dead-eye look has strangely familiar parallels to her own life and she logs it in the back of her mind somewhere. But this wasn’t about control at all. She had just wanted to feel something (anything). So she took a bear from her bed and sat it in a trashcan and lit it on fire. She sat riveted by and yet not particularly impressed by her tiny blaze until the smoke got heavy enough that she started having trouble breathing. She opened a window and dumped a cup of water on her failed experiment and laid down. By the time her bedroom door was yanked open amid shouts and cursing it was all over and she had trouble, as she often did, understanding what all the fuss was about. Her mother called the police but they refused to take her unless she wanted to go live with another family. Something flashed in her mother’s dead eyes. She really didn’t want her to stay. The child told the policeman that she wanted to stay here, with her mom, mostly out of spite. Maybe things weren’t as outside of her control as she thought.
“I don’t know, some of these chicks here tonight lookin’ crazy, son.”
Like, crazy how?
“Like a mess…”
A flashback: “why won’t she do her fucking hair? Always coming up in here looking crazy” but she had done her hair. Sort of. The problem was that she was having more nightmares than usual and had woke up late. So instead of having her usual two hour cry and try to coax herself out of bed session she had only had 15 minutes. Her eyes were still red when she made it to the bus stop she had switched to avoid the girls who wanted to beat her up. She slinked into a seat in front of the bus hoping they’d have something better to talk about but they were waiting for her. She closed her eyes and silently wished herself away, confident that if she wished hard enough it would work. As the other students erupted into laughter at the latest volley of insults lobbed at her she readjusted her expectations, hoping that if she wished loud enough that she could at least drown out the roar.
“Ugh! Why is she still checkin’ for me so hard? That bitch is crazy.”
Like, crazy how?
“Like tie you up in a basement & kill you…”
A flashback: cut eyes and murmuring from the line of desks across the room. “It’s that crazy bitch who kills people.” it doesn’t matter much that if she actually took lives she wouldn’t be sitting there. She’s too different and too wildly adrift on the stream that was her own depression to adjust to accommodate their expectations. Even if it would keep her safer. In her latest cry for help she had sketched dramatic little pictures of herself dying in various ways on the back of her completed test until the teacher collected everyone’s papers. She stared with malice at the face of the bully she would blame in her suicide letter as she scribbled out her morose little masterpieces. Hanging from a noose. Hit by a car. Knife in the gut. Her teacher, the consummate professional that she was, told the other students about the drawings after the child was temporarily pulled from class, but not before informing the principal that the drawings were obviously, a threat directed at none other than the bully who had repeatedly humiliated her. They eventually learned the truth, and after a couple of forced psychiatrist visits she was allowed back into the class. The bully’s friends whispered about a plan to jump her after school. But by then she was used to being whispered about. Used to being crazy.
“They didn’t build this shit with fat people in mind” she sighed as she wriggled her way out of the just slightly too tight space behind the register.
“But you’re not fat, don’t say that,” he responded.
Tell that to the hips that got caught in a turnstile yesterday and everyday that she forgets to turn sideways. Tell that to the stores that stop at size 12 (or size 10 if she wanted to look her age). Tell that to the small woman rolling her eyes beside me on the subway as my booty spills over into her seat. Tell that to the holes my inner thighs have rubbed into every pair of jeans I own. Tell that to the rolls on my back & the crevices in my ass.
Tell that to the silence at the end of your sentence that should say “because fat people are ugly, because if I think you’re attractive you can’t be fat because I’m saving fat to degrade a woman two sizes smaller than you but with a flatter chest & a spare tire. Because you’re not fat is a compliment even when it’s not true because what I’m really saying is you don’t repulse me the way fat people are supposed to repulse me. Because I get final say on your body, not you & I’m giving you a pass for the same dimpled ass I laughed at on another woman yesterday because your waistline is smaller than hers and a normal woman would just be happy with that.”
“I am fat, I weigh 235 pounds.”
A look of wide-eyed disbelief tainted with just the slightest bit of disgust wells up in his face. A glance at her hips, her thighs, her stomach, her arms, her breasts. Looking for it. Finding it?
“Well it looks good on you.”
Tuesday, June 18, 2013: the soothing moan of an upright bass wafts through the halls of the underground passageway. An older brown face peers from behind the instrument morosely scraping out the classical melody. As I pass, an open case with scattered change and a few dollar bills. I toss him a $5 I was going to use towards a train pass.
Monday, July 1, 2013: bass music echoes from around the corner as I enter the turnstile, a more modern tune this time. I retrieve my wallet, resolving to pay my student loan a few days late so I can offer $20 this time. As I round the corner I am presented with the visage of a graying white man bowing softly, at his feet, a case piled high with bills.
I put away my wallet.
I put away my wallet because
Wednesday, June 5, 2002: a nine-month manhunt begins for a little white girl who was abducted in a town far enough away for me to have never heard about it and yet she is all I hear about for several weeks. She is found a few miles from her home by the heroic efforts of her community. Simultaneously, a black girl half her age and two hours away from me goes missing and there is barely any news coverage. She is left to chew herself out of her restraints and report her own abductors and by the time I find out about her she has been home for 7 months. Without a media frenzy to assist in her rescue, I wonder if she had any other choice to survive than to be her own hero. To compensate, I look for girls like hers in the faces of brown children hurried past me on the street. I avert my gaze from little white faces lest I become distracted in my hunt and miss another little black girl who may not have the strength to save herself this time.
I put away my wallet because
Saturday, march 23, 2012: a young black girl is cast as a main character in a movie retelling of a popular novel. A white fan admits that he isn’t as sad that she dies now that he knows she’s black. I am twice as sad about her death to make up for his comment. I am half as sad about the death of a white character to balance it out.
I put away my wallet because
Monday, June 10, 2013: a white man finally goes on trial for the murder of a black boy he killed over a year ago. Since then the victim has been given a post-mortem drug test, has had his criminal history researched, and his phone records were subpoenaed to support claims of his guilt. But he is dead and not on trial. I harbor so much indignant rage for innocent black boys being blamed for their own deaths that I have no anger left for a school full of equally defenseless white children shot in cold blood.
I put my wallet away because as of July 1, 2013: I can no longer feel pain over the tears of a people who collectively can’t cry for me. I have no money left, I’ve already paid for this song as many times as I can afford.
As the doors of the subway car slide closed a pained wail issues from down the platform. “STOP!”
The entire car gazes inquisitively out the windows. A young black man runs by. A moment passes. A young Asian woman rushes by. “STOP!” a rush of anger floods the car. Some passengers edge towards the shut doors seething impotently at the empty platform before them.
Not me. I seethe at the young man. The black boy who would steal a purse in utter disregard of me and every other black person on the car who will bare the shame of his actions with me and of every young black man who will now unwillingly be branded purse-snatcher in his stead.
The car comes alive with vitriol in 5 different languages. I wonder how many languages have ‘nigger’ in them. I wonder how many colloquial stories are being spoken invoking the spirits of young men like this young man. Black faces not to be trusted. Purse-snatchers. Seething not at the platform after all but at the young man. (I pause. reflect. redirect.)
Not me. I seethe at each individual in that car who will judge millions with what they have seen here today. I seethe at everyone who has ever stopped me or my brother in a corner store and at every cab that has ever raced past a weary black body desperate for the warmth of home after a long night.
Between the pockets of rage there are those who are silent. Whose expressions say more than 5 languages combined. There is a terror in those eyes. I see histories of violent crimes committed in the same darkened streets we are collectively lurching towards in that subway car. A gun at her temple. A boot to his rib cage. A wallet or purse-snatched along with something intangible that they haven’t yet figured how to get back. They seethe not at a young man but at a danger he has been representing to them long before this night. (I pause. reflect. redirect)
Not me. I seethe at a society that victimizes us twice. Victimizing the one whose story is echoing in the walls of that subway stop and victimizes a race of people along with that girl. People who won’t be allowed to be an individual. People who can’t have the luxury of being responsible for their actions alone. Even the purse-snatcher, who was a purse-snatcher long before this day and many worse things besides. I seethe at a society that makes me choose sides between a woman, traveling alone, who was robbed, who may have been me on a different evening, and the young black man who is forced to represent us all. Not a person but something else altogether, pulsing and breathing in the undercurrent of every action that we take.
And as the doors open and shut again, I seethe impotently at the empty platform before me.