Michelle Obama is the matriarchal super woman we all admire. But how did she get where she is, and what things does her new book, Becoming, teach us? Here are seven things we learnt
1. Children should be made ready for the adult world
Obama looks back on her childhood with nostalgic fondness and it’s not hard to see why. With a loving, family-orientated father and a just, strong-minded mother, she and her brother Craig were in good hands. Guided but never coddled, there’s something to be said for the way Obama's mother saw her babies as more than just children, but as a responsibility and opportunity to bring kind, intelligent adults into the world who are prepared for life as it comes to them.
2. It’s important to be prepared for a crisis
As Michelle’s brother, Craig, grew older, he realised that—due to his father’s disability—he would physically have the become the “man of the house” should anything such as a fire happen. He meticulously went over the emergency exit procedure with his family, in preparation for such an event. It may seem like an overreaction to some and obvious to others, but the reality is, how many of us are actually prepared for the worst? And if that day should come, we’d all take some comfort in knowing there was a plan that may just save lives.
3. Perseverance is key
Contrary to her parents’ words of encouragement and constant reassurance that she should trust in her own abilities, the doubting words of a school counsellor rang heavy in Obama's ears; “I’m not sure that you’re Princeton material.” A small sentence, with a huge encumbrance.
We’re all faced with situations such as this and there will always be people who don’t support or believe in you. The key is to graciously ignore them and be the best version of yourself possible, as Obama later shows: “I never did stop in on the college counsellor to tell her she’d been wrong—that I was Princeton material after all. It would have done nothing for either of us. And in the end, I hadn’t needed to show her anything. I was only showing myself.”
"She’s a strong, intelligent black women who, like so many others of her colouring, is forced to carry the burden of others’ prejudice"
4. Recognising the history behind being a wife and the importance of staying empowered
“You and I, you and I, you and I. We were learning to adapt, to knit ourselves into a solid and for ever form of us. Even if we were the same two people we’d always been, the same couple we’d been for years, we now had new labels, a second set of identities to wrangle. He was my husband. I was his wife. We’d stood up at church and said it out loud, to each other and to the world. It did feel as if we owed each other new things.
For many women, including myself, ‘wife’ can feel like a loaded word. It carries a history. If you grew up in the 1960s and 1970s as I did, wives seemed to be a genus of white women who lived inside television sitcoms—cheery, coiffed, corseted. They stayed at home, fussed over the children, and had dinner ready on the stove. They sometimes got into the sherry or flirted with the vacuum-cleaner salesman, but the excitement seemed to end there.”
5. How much the world has changed, and how much it hasn't
From her cousin asking, “How come you talk like a white girl?” to her white college roommate’s mother requesting a room change, Obama touches on the blatant racial inequality in America and how it affected her, throughout her book. She alludes to the subject without ever making herself a victim—she’s a strong, intelligent black women who, like so many others of her colouring, is forced to carry the burden of others’ prejudice.
She strives to be better than the hateful few and is constantly a source of inspiration to many, of all colours. Yet, her struggle to show her identity in a world that loves to categorise, and the prejudices she has faced show a society that has made progress but still has some way to go.
There’s also a more than dignified lesson on being gracious while simultaneously forceful in the face of bullies, i.e., Trump. Ever the gentlewoman, don’t let her few words on him lead you to believe she doesn’t mean business. Sentences such as: “Nothing in how he conducted himself suggested that he was serious about wanting to govern” show a no-messing-around approach and a dismissal of him that is ruthless without being rude. Take notes for your next interaction with an idiot.
"I was smitten. I loved the slow roll of his voice and the way his eyes softened when I told a funny story"
6. You can be your own hero
No one would assume the position of first lady is easy, but just how much pressure is placed on a woman in that role is made clear in Becoming. From adjusting family life to suit the necessity of the White House security, not having the same privileges awarded to a man in power, to supporting Barrack and his career without losing her individuality in the flurry of him being president, her time as FLOTUS was not short of complications.
One lesson we’d all do well to learn from her time there is that responsibility can take a toll but finding a new normal will help you to readjust expectations. Change is not always bad and power is not always easy, you just need a good head on your shoulders and great people around you.
7. Love is the most important thing
From start to finish, whether it's her parents, brother, friends, husband or children, Obama's attitude is that love is the most important thing. It's important to give love and have it in return, it's important to treat people with respect and dignity and to keep the peace where possible. Her fierce love for her husband and children is not only desirable, but inspirational and it paints a picture of that healthy kind of love we should all try to give.
We'll leave you with this quote of her enduring love with Barrack:
“I was smitten. I loved the slow roll of his voice and the way his eyes softened when I told a funny story. I was coming to appreciate how he ambled from one place to the next, never worried about time.”
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