By Michelle Obama
Crown Publishing Group (November 2018)
List price: $32.50
Michelle Obama’s new book, Becoming, is a beautiful memoir of a young girl who grew up on the South Side of Chicago in the South Shore community to become one of one. The book gives a most honest and authentic view of what it meant and means to be a Black middle-class young woman coming of age.
The story reads like a novel. It is beautifully written, compelling with worldwide appeal if you are a woman, and even more of an appeal if you are a Black woman specifically from Chicago. This is the story of a contemporary Cinderella who is African American.
One of the amazing things about the book is its honesty. Michelle reveals her feelings and thoughts about everything from the first kiss from her Prince Charming husband, Barack Obama, to conception, to being the young Black girl in a new school, to motherhood, to being overwhelmed as a political wife, to walking in and out of the White House as the first Black First Lady of the United States of America.
This is a book of inspiration, a modern love story, a political story, and a Black woman’s story.
Occupying the White House with Number 44, Michelle is the only Black woman to have ever sat in that seat and she admits that she was conflicted. She was the reluctant political wife, never claiming to be the political type, even as she believed in her husband, his values, and his big worldview. She trusted Barack. She even admired him as she, in the meantime, searched her very own way.
Michelle heard of Barack first as he spoke as a community organizer on the far South Side of Chicago. They were both lawyers, working in the downtown law firm in a skyscraper building, but well aware of the community where Black folk lived in segregated Chicago.
She was raised to be independent and career focused and was primed for a good life. Upon graduating from the Ivy League universities, Princeton and Harvard, Michelle was lawyer ready. She was also Mr. Obama’s mentor at the law firm where they both worked.
Barack was late for his very first day on the job. Michelle was not impressed, but she thought he was cute. Barack was smitten early. She wasn’t. She was hesitant and didn’t want to cross the professional line of dating, especially being his boss and dating, especially since they were the only Blacks in the office.
But Barack was determined to date her, and kept putting on the moves. Finally Michelle agreed and they went to see a Spike Lee movie. They went to the Art Institute. Then they went and got an ice cream cone on a hot summer day in Hyde Park. Barack asked if he could kiss her. He did. He had her on the first kiss, lust and all. So much for the office.
Michelle reveals their love/marital and parental relationships. They were very much the “average couple.” Her concerns were not necessarily his. His approach was not necessarily hers.
Michelle grew up in a tight family environment. Her father worked for the City of Chicago and was a precinct captain. Her mother was a stay at home mom. Mrs. Marian Robinson took care of her children, raising them with the utmost of American values.
Michelle grew up with the comfort and protection of her big brother, Craig, who has been her guiding light and very best friend. She went to Whitney Young High School with her then best friend, Santita Jackson.
Michelle was in and out of the home of Santita’s parents, The Reverend Jesse and Jacqueline Jackson, so she saw as a teen the behind the scenes of a pubic figure.
They rode the bus to school, just as high school girls do, with giggles and secrets. Santita was the maid of honor at her wedding and the godmother to her children, but was never invited to the White House during the Obama administration or on the girlfriend trip to Camp David.
Michelle reveals her loneliness of becoming pregnant, of when she was alone and giving herself fertility shots. She talks about what every professional woman thinks about and that is the biological clock. But she birthed two beautiful daughters. This is a very personal moment in the book for women and she speaks of it with candor that others can gleam from.
Michelle discusses her marital counseling. It was a time where she felt alone with her children, with an ambitious husband who was too often not home for dinner. The marriage counselor helped her to see herself in the relationship and the dynamics of her responsibilities for herself. She changed.
She talks about her reluctance as a political wife and the challenges it presented. On the campaign trial she was thrown in the water to swim, without staff, media training, a speechwriter or assistance. But she rose to the occasion, although where her husband was confident, sometimes she was hesitant and afraid.
She started on the campaign trail speaking about herself in Iowa to small groups and as the campaign continued, the crowds grew. Michelle still worked at the University of Chicago Hospital as an administrator as she did her campaign commitments three days a week and took care of her daughters. She moved forth in her husband’s name, as she was defining her own voice.
Keeping Things Normal
Barack and Michelle have a beautiful marriage of balance. She is discipline, with color codes and planning. He is a little messy and not worried that things will work out. He took chances. She was on budget; he had none. She challenged. They are model parents, teaching their children reality and idealism as they learn for themselves.Michelle’s mother, Mrs. Robinson, has been a steady strength in her daughter’s life – the mom who knew when to step up and when to step back. She went to the White House to live with the Obamas to take care of her grandchildren.
Mrs. Robinson was the quiet force behind the scenes, as she rode to school with the girls with Secret Service protection. Michelle was insistent that the girls have normal experiences and not get spoiled by the privileges of White House living, servants and all.
You have to admire how she protected her children to insure normalcy as best she could, from allowing them to have playmates of their own to dressing for public view to doing household chores.
Michelle’s Becoming is a book for women, women who sometimes step into unknown territory and have to figure it out, alone. This was her situation – sometimes in school, at work, and as a wife.
She experienced racism in a variety of ways as she was becoming, and she does not shield it. She was constantly being full, as she was becoming her very own person.
She was Barack’s wife; Barack who was self-assured, and who always believed himself to be the smartest one in the room. She was at his side, even when she didn’t necessarily agree. She was a concerned wife, who watched her amazing husband grow right before her eyes. She grew as his wife, too, but also in her own right.
Rising To The Challenge
You learn their love and experiences. You experience Michelle the woman maturing and exploring in the book. She never stops being a Black woman having Black experiences. Media projected her as the “angry Black woman” as it dissected her.
Michelle was ready to pull herself off the campaign trial so as not to do harm until her dear friend and mentor, Valerie Jarrett, and political engineer David Axelrod pointed out some basic communication skills to her.
Eventually, Michelle changed and became the darling of the campaign and the closer as she relayed her very own story, which contrasted starkly to her husband’s exotic family background.
Michelle and Barack have a special place for children. They love children. They love hugging children. They love inspiring children, telling them they can be successful no matter their circumstance, reflecting their own humble beginnings.
Michelle particularly loves girls and encourages them to grow to be strong and purposeful. Love is throughout the book. Love for each other, love for their children, love for parents and heritage, love for change, and love for their country.
Michelle rose to the challenge of being the first Black First Lady. Her legacy is rich as she brought change to the White House. This is a book of inspiration, a modern love story, a political story, and a Black woman’s story, with a little romance and a lot of reality.
A good read.