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Culture

Becoming Exceptional: What We Owe Michelle Obama and Beyoncé

I have been watching and rewatching the glory and salvation that is Beyoncé’s Homecoming. The over 2-hour film chronicles her historical performance as the first Black woman to headline Coachella. The film is everything and shows the strength and dedication of a woman who has reinvented so much of the music industry. Truly, there is nothing I can say about Beyoncé that hasn’t been said already, she is an icon, artist, visionary, activist, and the closest thing to a representation of God on Earth.

On the same day Homecoming came out, my mom and I saw Michelle Obama on her international Becoming tour in Amsterdam. I wore a graphic dark green dress with flowers cascading on the back and front. As we were leaving, my dad asked why I had chosen to wear such a nice outfit, “It’s not like Michelle Obama is going to see you.” I laughed and simply said, “It’s Michelle Obama.” The 17,000-person venue was filled to capacity with a majority non-Americans beaming eagerly to see a woman who stands as a symbol of hope.

Michelle Obama in the Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam. © ANP

Now, this might seem like just a coincidence — to have a single day where I was blessed with so much uplifting feminist centric content. But for me, it was as predictable as my morning coffee because Black women continue to be the chosen source of encouragement for millions, whether some admit it or not.

With our country at war with itself ideologically, Black women are consistently the ones creating poignant work consumed by the masses. Whether it’s Oprah, Michelle Obama, or Beyoncé, Black women are serving as the leaders we all look up to. I mean, how many think pieces did we read about Oprah running for president after just a short Golden Globes speech? These black women are without a doubt exceptional but we have to be careful. We can’t think of Black women as superheroes coming to save us. And we certainly can’t expect any one person to “save us” from this mess. (I’m looking at you white women)

Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming has already sold more than 10 million copies, quickly becoming one of the best selling in history. In her book, Obama details the difficulties of being a Black woman in the White House, a historic monument built by slaves. Watching her on stage, I was inspired but at the same time, I recognized the work and incredible restraint it must have taken her to be as successful as she was as First Lady.

Michelle Obama and Beyoncé are not just motivational, they’re financial powerhouses. Netflix paid Beyoncé 60 million dollars for a three-project deal and watching Homecoming, I think Netflix got a pretty good deal. And her bankability is particularly impressive because Beyoncé does not let the audience forget who she’s constructing masterpieces like Homecoming for: Black women. It’s obvious in her lyrics, dancers, musical interludes, attitudes, and themes. Suddenly finding myself with a more flexible income, I went to my first Beyoncé concert after graduating college. I wanted to see the woman who had kept me awake as I studied for finals and reignited the power of the word feminist. I’d never seen a performer who more perfectly speaks to this moment in time. She spoke of the past but appealed to our present.

As I reflect on both Michelle Obama’s work and Beyoncé’s art, I am reminded of something we should all acknowledge: we owe Black women a debt that can never be repaid. They are the ones driving and creating our popular culture, creating work and activism (cough Tarana Burke cough) that captivates not only Black women but all of us.

Their burden is heavy, one of exceptionalism and brilliance. It’s not a coincidence that Black women continue to rise to the top of our cultural zeitgeist, they’ve worked the hardest. In a country that has continually told black women they are not safe, very few have made it to the top echelons of our society. It is this lack of systemic privilege that makes their work even more spectacular.

Michelle Obama and Beyoncé are two of the few Black women who have overcome the barriers society put in front of them. Not only do Black women continue to make 61 cents on the white man’s dollar, Black women continue to face the highest rates of maternal deaths, disproportionate rates of violence, and few positions of power. In recent years, I’ve found myself turning more and more to Black women for inspiration, and it’s clear we must support Black women whether they are a billionaire, a leader of this nation, or an artist. It’s the least we can do.

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Guilt, Heartbreak, and Hilarity in Episode 83 of “Jane the Virgin”

After the shock of last week’s premiere, The CW’s Jane the Virgin is out with its second episode. Chapter Eighty-Three centers on the idea of guilt — whether it’s religion or the internal struggle between right and wrong, our favorite characters all seem to be struggling with it. The founders of Mujeres Problemáticas discuss their thoughts on what to make of this episode of Jane the Virgin.

NICOLA: This episode had me from the start: guilt is definitely written into my family’s genetics. And there is something about guilt and immigrant stories that go so well together, like chile and cheese. My abuelita and my mom both had a story for each situation that would basically guilt me into doing what they wanted. But maybe that’s because I grew up religious what about you Cristina?

CRISTINA: Well, as someone who went to CCD, I know plenty about guilt, Catholic or otherwise! And as Jane experienced, sometimes it’s easy to throw your conflicted feelings on the church even when the guilt is really coming from inside you. It’s part of our culture, how we talk to our parents, how we talk to ourselves. But, of course, I loved the jabs at the church like when Rafael said, “I don’t want Mateo thinking he’s going to hell every time he’s done something wrong.” And Jane said, “That’s not what the church teaches… at first.” Dying!

NICOLA: I’m one of the only Latinx people I know who’s family is Protestant. Sorry Catholicism but when we immigrated, we left our religion. I still feel guilt has this unique relationship to religion, even if the majority of my guilt comes from trying to fulfill the expectations and dreams of my immigrant family.

Obviously, I imagine this guilt is NOT the same as you might feel when you find out your previously dead husband has come back to life with amnesia five years later after you already found happiness with another man who happens to be the same man who you had an artificially-inseminated baby with.

CRISTINA: Haha right, Jane’s guilt is a special case. It’s so extreme but that didn’t mean my heart wasn’t breaking all over this episode. That scene where we saw what both her and Rafael wanted to say but didn’t broke me. How many times does that happen in real life? Why are missed connections like that so devastating? And, of course, there was that moment when Jane thought Michael/Jason’s memories were coming back. That feeling of disappointment for something you’re not even sure you want — everyone can relate to it.

NICOLA: Agreed. I think Jane the Virgin’s writers give us an interesting life lesson through Jane. Oftentimes our society depicts decisions as very black and white, that there is a right answer and a wrong answer for everything. The reality is most of the time our decisions and experiences happen in a very gray area. I feel like this is where Jane is right now, she’s dealing with her unresolved feelings for Michael/Jason and her past with him and the current love of her life Rafael. And surprise — there is no right answer!

The person I really feel the most for this episode is Alba. Now that Jorge is able to get his Visa to see his mother, Alba is left to process all the feelings. For a character, that always played by the rulebook, it’s been refreshing to watch her come into herself. I think the Alba we met in season one would never have made a decision to get married in a matter of hours. But this Alba from season 5 feels more fearless and breaks the mold that TV often gives to older women. Older women can make mistakes, fall in love, and yes, also serve as a family’s moral compass. It’s great to see Alba have such a full storyline separate from being a grandmother.

CRISTINA: Agreed. Alba is amazing and her storyline this week was so poignant. Did Jane the Virgin always make us cry this much? Have I forgotten what it’s like to watch this show? So far, this final season has had SO MUCH FEELS. I need to prepare myself better to handle it!

Of course, it wasn’t all tears. There’s always Rogelio for comic relief and the craziness of the plot to keep things moving. In fact, I have a conspiracy theoryfor you. I think Sin Rostro was lying about why she gave Michael amnesia. I mean, she’s not exactly trustworthy, you know? I have no idea what she’s really up to but I think she’s using Jason to drive a wedge between Jane and Rafael. That line-dancing kiss was so awkward! And then he pretended his dog ate the divorce papers after just threatening to leave (not to mention the eyes he makes for Petra)?!?!?! I don’t buy it. Something is up and I don’t trust Jason/new Michael at all.

NICOLA: Me too! Maybe it’s because I’ve been comfortable on Team Rafael for too long but something seems off. I knew it the moment Michael/Jason took her line dancing. Then again, I don’t trust any form of forced dancing activities. The connection between him and Sin Rostro seems too clean cut and I can’t help but believe that a woman with face changing abilities would let Michael/Jason off that quickly.

The only person that centers me on this show is Rogelio and this episode didn’t disappoint. He unapologetically perfectly balances his vain and self-absorbed tendencies with his love and support for his family, creating the perfect character. I think Jaime Camil deserves an Emmy just for his eyebrow acting alone.

CRISTINA: Yes, Rogelio was hilarious. The kayaks, the extended whaaaaat, the part in his hair. He really couldn’t be more himself and I love it. People as fancy as the Atlantic and the New York Times have been writing about his new mode of masculinity and I agree. Sometimes it’s hard to look past how hilarious he is and see that he’s also so culturally significant. Damn, I’m going to miss this show!

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