Becoming Us-Part 2 of Commentary on Michelle Obama’s Becoming
I am zipping through this wonderful book and have finished the second section, Becoming Us of First Lady Michelle Obama’s new book Becoming. This is the second installment of my miniseries dedicated to this Queen, and I must say that if you haven’t purchased yet, you definitely should. The second section, evidenced by the title, is where we learn how she met and fell in love with her husband, and our 44th President Barack Hussein Obama, started their family, and began the journey to the White House. I felt that this section is where we really get to know her deeper, her thoughts about love, life, and her rise to the top of her whirlwind career trajectory. I think her story reflects the experiences of many black women, and gives some perspective to the very different experiences that she and Barack had on his journey to the Presidency. There was so much in this section, so bare with me, but here are some of my highlights:
“Barack intrigued me. He was not like anyone I’d dated before, mainly because he seemed so secure…To me, he was sort of like a unicorn-unusual to the point of seeming almost unreal”.
Get you a Barack, find your unicorn. For ladies and men, I think her statements about Barack are important to take in, because when you are looking for a life partner, there are certain things that you look for. One issue is that often times, especially with women, we are looking for a partner to complete us or make us feel better about ourselves, when the key is to feel good about ourselves before seeking someone out. That way you can show that person your full self and not a fragmented version.
“Trying to help remedy the imbalance, I pushed for us to consider law students coming from other state schools and from historically black colleges like Howard University….I objected anytime a student was automatically dismissed for having a B on a transcript…If we were serious about bringing in minority lawyers, I asserted, we’d have to look more holistically at candidates.”
Having a seat at the table and a say- As I talked about in one of my earlier posts, I think that for people of color, it is important to not only have a seat at the table, but a say. This is a good example of that. Mrs. Obama used her position to effect change in the organization and pave the way for other candidates from diverse backgrounds with the same amount of potential as white candidates-she gave them a fair chance, and at the end of the day that is all we are asking for.
“‘I don’t know how I missed that,’ my father said to the doctor, sounding genuinely perplexed, as if he hadn’t felt a single symptom leading up to this point, as if he hadn’t spent weeks and months, if not years, ignoring his pain.”
Sadly, Michelle Obama lost her father when he was 55 years old. He battled Multiple Sclerosis for years and did not ever complain about his pain or symptoms. Michelle scheduled a doctor’s appointment for him when it seemed to be unmanageable, but it was too late. I share this quote as a reflection on the notion that men, especially black men, typically do not like to seek out medical care or go in for preventative care. For black men, there are many historical reasons, one main one being lack of trust of physicians and medical teams (read about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment ) , and secondly, the idea that as a man they feel they need to work hard and provide for the family, even at the expense of their health.
“It was maybe then that I felt a first flicker of resentment involving politics and Barack’s unshakable commitment to the work. Or maybe I was just feeling the acute burden of being female. Either way, he was gone and I was here, carrying the responsibility. I sensed already that the sacrifices would be more mine than his.”
‘The acute burden on being female’ -Michelle bravely shares that she had fertility issues and conceived both her girls through IVF. She also here begins to share how she as a woman made many sacrifices that were necessary to get Barack into the White House. She had a great job and career trajectory, she had a great life as a working mom, but she had to step away from all of that for the greater good that was getting on board with the chance that he could be President. This stuck out to me because I agree with her that sometimes there is a burden and expectation on women and that it can be harder for us to pursue all of our goals because we have to choose between being a mother or being the Vice President at a hospital, etc. Women deal with this all of the time, but for men, it can be less daunting because of the expectations that society has placed on us (for example, fathers have less time for paternity leaves than mothers do for maternity leave, assuming that only the mother should stay home with the children).
“I was female, black and strong, which to certain people, maintaining a certain mid-set, translated only to “angry”. It was another damaging cliche, one that’s been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room, an unconscious signal not to listen to what we’ve got to say.”
The ‘angry black woman’- Michelle was tested and tried from the moment she stepped out into the public eye, campaigning for her husband to become president. People have said some hurtful things about her over the years, and while she acknowledged that it stung, I have always admired her grace and poise through it all. She discusses here a fact that is unfortunately still true today, the notion that a confident black women must also be angry because she might appear serious often, or is confident in who she is. I hope that we can get away from these negative connotations.
I could go on and on, but I do not want to give it all away, but I hope you will continue to dive in to this book as I have, even on the subway on the way, or wherever you are! Stay tuned for Part 3-Becoming More!