Unrelenting honesty can take bold courage, and some serious thick skin, so when we discovered A Girl Has No President on Instagram we were immediately convinced that its creator has both in spades. Michelle built her platform to speak up and out on the state of the current U.S. presidency, and, as she sees it, the failings of its leadership. Born of a way to channel her anger, her space has spread fast and furiously as she shares politically commentary and thought-provoking headlines with a bit of brevity along the way.
And yet she leaves no room for the blatant nastiness that has plagued our nation in the years since the 2016 election, and blocks followers of her account for such. She's honest in this regard, as it's her domain, saying, "If you wanna be an asshole, do it somewhere else." Bravo.
We caught up with Michelle to ask about her thoughts on the state of the political divide and how social media can spur both creativity and community (and what to do about all those haters, too). Read on for all of that and more from this fearless curator.
We can imagine the impetus for creating this account, but can you walk us through the process in which you started your now infamous Instagram feed? Was it the day after the election? Did you have a goal in mind? What made you decide to use IG as your platform?
Venting was my goal. I was already active on social media, with all accounts being private and they still are. Instagram has always been my favorite social media because I’m a photographer and I love images, often more so than adding words to them. At times, images are more than enough. But I do have a Twitter for this account as well.
I’ve always been very involved politically and volunteered for a democratic campaign as I turned 18 and voted in my first election. Both of my parents are Republican, although one is not a Trump republican, which I’m thankful for.
I started my account just after the election in 2016. Perhaps it was five days or so after. I was just angry. I had to work early the next morning so I fell asleep while the results were coming in from the area I was born in and the surrounding states. It’s the confederacy so there’s no mystery there. I know how that was gonna go. I woke up to the ticker at the bottom of the news channel I was watching that said “Clinton concedes.” I was literally sick to my stomach. It was like we’d voted in a cartoon character. People actually voted for that idiot? I sat there and thought, “This is what having eight years of a black president gets you” and I said to myself, out loud, "A girl has no president."
I suppose it was a play on a line from Game of a Thrones, which I love. I thought about waking up my daughter, who had gone to vote with me and lives in my outspoken home and is just as outspoken as I am and that I’d have to wake her before work and tell her, which I did. I told her he would be president and that our county was in trouble but “I’ll make sure to protect you!” Her response, “But who’s gonna protect you, momma?” Earth shattering. It was a good question.
We often look to your feed for both levity and information during this heavy and dark time - was that your intention? How has the feed evolved since it began?
I can’t say it was my intention, but you pretty such just summed up my personality in your question. I can say there is zero arrogance tied into my account. I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want attention, I don’t want praise. But I needed a place to vent because I was angry. So angry that I found that I often stayed home as opposed to going out for the things I needed. I was robbed at gun point by a black man just over 20 years ago. It was so awful that I suffered PTSD for years because of it, and perhaps still do. But that never made me change the way I saw an entire group of men. I was never afraid of black men after that, nor did I blame all black men for what one man did to me.
But when I drove to work the morning after the election, I viewed white people differently. 53% of white women voted for Trump and in the area in Maryland where I lived at the time, I struggled to find a white man that didn’t, and I mean, banner waving, hat wearing, screaming from your old truck kinda guys. It was gross. And this was after he talked about grabbing women by the pussy, mocked a disabled reporter publicly and was accused of raping a 13 year-old-girl. Why did over half of the white women in this country think that was acceptable? How is that even possible?! I’d felt like white folks let us all down in this, and I still think that.
I have no idea how I have so many followers. I guess anger draws a crowd but I also have a few celebrity followers and I’m sure that has something to do with it. It was a little easier at 10,000 but I appreciate all who are along for this ride. I get a great deal of praise from strangers which I appreciate but find uncomfortable. I’m not a celebrity and have zero interest in ever being one. I’ve even met wonderful people in Nashville who I now consider friends, so that’s nice.
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As far as how my account has changed, I think I started out being nicer. I gave people allowances they hadn’t earned. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t go to pro-Trump accounts and comment just to be mean or to start an argument, but there’s a lot of that on my account. After the threats I’ve gotten, I just don’t play around anymore. If you wanna be an asshole, do it somewhere else. I block and don’t ask questions. I’m busy. I don’t have time to play with children.
It is, unfortunately, a dangerous time to take a stand in this country. We have seen the kind of disparaging and alarming comments you have received. And we admire your tenacity in dealing with them directly. Many people just ignore the dangerous and vile, why have you decided to tackle them head on?
Trust me, what you’ve seen is the tip of the iceberg. I ignore the really dumb ones, but sometimes I share. I mean, if you come for me and threaten me, calling me all kinds of awful, disrespectful, racially disparaging names, and you’re stupid enough to post the name of your high school, I’m gonna make sure your mom sees it. I’d certainly want to know if my son did such a thing.
I guess I just don’t scare very easily, but I’ll protect myself and my children. I don’t report people for being stupid, but I’ll block you if you just come here to be really mean and just start shit for no reason. I’ve also had things so bad that I’ve reported them to the FBI.
But we need to also remember that this evil and these threats aren’t new. We’ve been killing black and brown people in this country, for nothing, since the beginning. Everyone has a camera in their pockets now and we have a loud group of people saying awful, racially charged things. Making political ads that are racially insensitive and outwardly hateful and offensive. Again, these things aren’t new, but they’re pretty damn loud, right now.
We have talked about the ugly, but what about the good? What has been the most rewarding part of this project? Can you share some highlights of the positive impact you are seeing/feeling from your work?
I’ve met amazing people! I get messages from all over the world. Russia, India, Ireland, a lot from Australia and with really great things to say or add to what I’m doing. A lot of ppl send me stuff. I’ve been to the Women’s March in DC, the March for Science in DC, protested at the Capital for DACA, where Chelsea Handler was kind enough to fly out and join us, I’ve met A LOT of great people along the way. The people I’ve met in real life, via this account, are nothing short of amazing. I don’t introduce my kids to just anyone! The good FAR outweighs the bad.
[Editor's note: This interview was conducted in early November 2018] With less than a week until November 6, how are you feeling about the midterms?
Optimistically cautions. I have high hopes, but I worry if it will be enough. I’m not one to buy into the blue wave and I think it’s often dangerous. I don’t want folks to think we’ve got this in the bag and stay home. Folks have got to GET OUT AND VOTE and I encourage others to get out and do the same. It takes a village and we need to be pushing others to vote. It’s important!
What is your ultimate goal with your platform?
To spread things people might miss. I don’t care about getting credit or being tagged and my stuff is shared a lot and I often see it shared without credit. I just don’t care. I want people to share it. That’s the whole point! I also like the giving back I’ve been able to do. I’ve worked with several other accounts in raising money for different causes. That’s been great!