Twitter's racist and sexist reaction to Michelle Obama and the presidential selfie

A few innocent photos taken out of context lead to a stereotype-filled Twitter bonanza

Published December 10, 2013 9:45PM (EST)

Michelle Obama               (AP/M. Spencer Green)
Michelle Obama (AP/M. Spencer Green)

During Tuesday's Nelson Mandela memorial, President Barack Obama, United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a three-person selfie:

There was plenty of glee on Twitter over the prospect of the leader of the free world acting no different than a bored teen at a funeral, but there was also an uglier undercurrent of racism and sexism in the way Twitter responded to Michelle Obama's reaction to the affair. Because the first lady was not involved in the photo — and because she likely did not know her photo was being taken by others — her lack of a big, camera-friendly smile was interpreted by many as disapproval. And since Obama was jovially interacting with a blond white woman (and because Obama and Michelle eventually switched seats) Twitter rather quickly surmised that President Obama was "in the doghouse" when it came to his relationship with his wife.

Some higher-profile conservative tweeters, meanwhile, took the whole manufactured crisis as proof that their stereotype of Michelle Obama as an angry black woman was justified:

All in all, the whole incident reminded of nothing so much as when Obama was "caught" checking out a woman in Brazil. The right and Twitter went crazy over that image, too, until video surfaced showing the president doing nothing of the sort.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

MORE FROM Elias Isquith

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barack Obama Michelle Obama Nelson Mandela Selfie Sexism Twitter