The Eyes Have It: Six Celebrity Masters of the Side-Eye

by Tracey Michae’l

I remember when I first encountered the side-eye. I was probably about six or seven and watching a "conversation" between my mother and a cashier at the A&P who tried it with her about a coupon. It was a thing of beauty, this way of cutting without knives. This way of making a point and putting folks in their place with only a brief, chastising look. And my mother, well, she is the Master Po of the art: a chief side-eye slinger who spent many years teaching her little grasshopper the ways of the craft.

So early on, I became a kind of side-eye analyst, evaluating the variations and critiquing effectiveness. The truth is, most Black women are adept at reading folks without necessarily saying a word. We don’t try to do it. We don’t say, “Let me give him the side-eye for saying that.” It’s an organic thing. The looks come from our souls. In situations where we might feel silenced (or have chosen to silence ourselves) for whatever reason, in those all too frequent moments when we feel like we are drowning in micro-aggressions and plain out foolishness, it’s our way of saying, “Oh so you just going to say/do that?” or “Okay, I see you,” or simply, “Stop.”

Over the last year, there have been several celebrity sisters who have revealed themselves to be masters of the side-eye. Let’s take a moment to study these gifted women and see what their eyes tell us.

1. Viola Davis

When NBC Correspondent Natalie Morales made the “you all look alike” mistake of calling Viola Davis Shonda on this year’s Golden Globes red carpet, Viola masterfully gave her the, “You tried it, but that’s okay. I’m flyer than you!” side-eye. This variation seems to be a favorite of our sister-celebs who must maintain their beautiful smiles even in the face of the ridiculousness that is sometimes the media.

2. Phylicia Rashad

Auntie Phylicia has been a connoisseur of side-eye for many years both as herself and her infamous alter-ego Clair Huxtable. Her specialties include the “Oh, so you think you’re cute?” and the “Bless her heart…” variations. (The latter seen above.) Sadly, Aunt Phylicia has recently become the recipient of numerous side-eyes herself by those of us who sat under her tutelage but ain’t buying her defense of Bill.

3. Oprah Winfrey

There’s something about that billionaire side-eye that can shut down a room and make folks break into a million little pieces (see what I did there?). That’s the space where Oprah Winfrey lives. She’s notorious for issuing the “You know I know you’re lying, right?” side-eye, especially when interviewing a controversial guest.

4. Sunny Hostin

Some side-eyes are attached to our incredulity in the moment. When you’re a television analyst listening to someone spout off uninformed nonsense, it can be hard to hold your tongue, but in those moments, the eyes tell all. Such is the case of CNN Legal Analyst, Sunny Hostin, who has mastered the “Bruh, are you freaking kidding me?!” and “This dude/broad…” (pictured above).

5. Chantal Biya

The side-eye is not just a Black American phenomenon. Indeed, the side-eye has been with us throughout history and across the Diaspora. The only thing not colorful about the First Lady of Cameroon Chantal Biya is the fierceness of her side-eye game. This one right here? Just call it the “Why am I listening to this sottise, again?” On ten.

6. Michelle Obama

There’s one form of the side-eye that is universal and that’s the “You can try and mess with my kids and my man, if you want to” side-eye. I call this Mama Bear, for short. And our lovely FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, could teach a class on it. Here, she gets advanced marks for pulling up a side-eye that is pointed upward, like the boss she is.

And last but not least, we couldn’t leave out the walking embodiment of side-eye. Of course, Prince is not a woman, but he's obviously well versed in the side-eye arts, and therefore deserves an honorable mention. Because… well, just look at him.

Tracey Michae'l is a regular contributor at For Harriet.

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