Snippets From Michelle Obama’s Book, ‘Becoming Michelle Obama’
The former first lady of the United States Michelle Obama turned 55 on 17 January.
She documented her journey from humble beginnings in the South Side of Chicago to the White House in her memoir, Becoming Michelle Obama. The book released only a couple of months ago and is already a bestseller.
Born Michelle Robinson, she talks about her battles as the ‘only black person in most rooms’; a thought that kept coming back to her when she was first lady.
She emerges in these pages as a first lady who steadfastly believed in her husband’s abilities but had no delusions about the fact that racism could play havoc with her husband’s ambitions at any moment.
Michelle Obama’s role as first lady has never been defined. Traditionally, first ladies both feed into, and reflect, patriarchal values: that a woman has to be seen and not heard. She has to be shy about her work to let her husband’s work shine. Michelle Obama however, tried to break free from this stereotype and made her mark.
She encouraged children to eat healthy. She was instrumental in starting a kitchen garden in the White House. She emphasised the importance of education and continued doing so even after she moved out of the White House.
But pulling it off wasn’t easy, because the White House worked in accordance patriarchal traditions. In her book, she talks about how ‘male presidency’ in itself is inherently patriarchal. The paraphernalia around the President works round the clock for the ‘man’s needs’.
“Barack was now surrounded by people whose job was to treat him like a precious gem. It sometimes felt like a throwback to some lost era, when a household revolved solely around the man’s needs, and it was the opposite of what I wanted our daughters to think was normal.”Michelle Obama in her memoir ‘Becoming Michelle Obama’
Here are some excerpts from her book that help us get inside the White House and catch a candid glimpse of Michelle Obama herself.
On Being ‘Othered’
“As the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House, I was ‘other’ almost by default. If there was a presumed grace assigned to my white predecessors, I knew it wasn’t likely to be the same for me. I’d learned through the campaign stumbles that I had to be better, faster, smarter and stronger than ever. My grace would have to be earned.”
In the run-up to Barack Obama’s first term, Michelle Obama was criticised for the way she talked, her sartorial sense, her gestures, and her mannerisms. Conservative media called her ‘too angry’ and ‘not a patriot’. She understood that a lot of the criticism was coming from a place of ignorance of black culture.
Twice as Good
Obama also talks about how her protective upbringing in a less privileged part of posh Chicago helped her understand the value of money.
She talks about how they had to pay for their own food and clothes in the White House!
“A couple of times a month, Meredith would roll several big racks of clothing into my dressing room in the residence, and we’d spend an hour or two trying things on, pairing outfits with whatever was on my schedule in the coming weeks. I paid for all my own clothes and accessories — with the exception of some items like the couture-level gowns I wore to formal events, which were lent to me by the designers and would later be donated to the National Archives, thus adhering to White House ethics guidelines.”
On Motherhood and IVF
She throws light upon the ways in which the society makes women feel guilty about miscarriages. She also talks about the silence that surrounds it and her desire to puncture that taboo.
How Barack Proposed!
“As we were reaching the end of the meal, Barack smiled at me and raised the subject of marriage. He reached for my hand and said that as much as he loved me with his whole being, he still didn’t really see the point. Instantly, I felt the blood rise in my cheeks. It was like pushing a button in me - the kind of big blinking red button you might find in some sort of nuclear facility surrounded by warnings signs and evacuation maps. Really? We were going to do this now? Eventually, our waiter came around holding a dessert plate, covered by a silver lid. He slid it in front of me and lifted the cover. I was almost too miffed to even look down, but when I did, I saw a dark velvet box where the chocolate cake was supposed to be. Inside was a diamond ring. Barack looked at me playfully. He’d baited me.”
On Secret Service’s Code Names
And lastly, for anyone who is wondering: no, she’s not going to run for office, ever! For all the attempts by conservatives a decade ago to paint her as a radical, Obama seems to be a measured, methodical centrist at heart. We wish you all the best for everything, Michelle Obama. Keep writing.