Michelle Obama and I could not be more different.
She grew up on the South Side of Chicago, I grew up in a tiny beach town in Connecticut. She’s a lawyer and graduated from Harvard Law, and I went to a state school and now do financial reporting for a parking company. She’s married to the 44th President of the United States and lived in the White House for 8 years while I spent those same years apartment hopping around the Hartford area while getting an English degree and swiping away on Tinder.
And yet, despite these vast differences, I saw so much of myself in Becoming. We were both little girls who took piano lessons and played with dolls, making up elaborate stories about their lives. We both entered school confident in our reading skills. We both have pondered and navigated life wanting to be independent with traditional values.
In Becoming I learned again what I already knew about the former first lady: Michelle Obama’s greatest gift is connecting with others, no matter your race, class, identity, even political party. She has a way of understanding and grace that allows her to connect with people from all walks of life, even if there are seemingly endless differences. This book is perfect representation of that gift.
She takes us through her childhood, with all its wonder, her schoolgirl days, with all its awkwardness, through her college years, her law school days, when she first met Barack Obama working in the same law firm, through early motherhood, through the 2008 presidential campaign, to her time in the White House and beyond.
I haven’t read many First Lady memoirs, but reading her perspective in the White House makes me want to read and compare to previous First Ladies’ experiences. While I don’t like to be too outspoken about my political views (they’re constantly changing, evolving, and sometimes completely flip-flopping), I remain firm in my view that we should always attempt to see the “other side”. Learning an alternate viewpoint will always help you. Even if you don’t agree with or like what you’re hearing, it’ll only give you a firmer ground to stand on when defending your own views. My point is: even if you’re not a supporter of the Obama administration, I highly recommend reading this book if you’re interested AT ALL in American politics. Just as I should read memoirs, biographies, and articles of those I don’t see eye to eye with. Here, Michelle Obama simply tells her story; she doesn’t throw anything in your face, she doesn’t try to sway you to believe anything. I personally enjoy reading things that challenge my viewpoint, not to try to change my mind, but to get a full account of the “other side” of things. While I happen to have a deep admiration for Michelle Obama, I believe it’s important for people who don’t to read this with an open mind. You don’t need to agree with everything she says or her husband says. Just listen. You might learn something, you might not. But at least you can hear, in her own words, what the life of a First Lady is like.
Here’s my opinion: She’s honest, inspiring, and deeply committed to both her family and her work. She’s a wonderful role model for all the children who were lucky enough to have her as their First Lady in their youth.
What I loved so much about this memoir is that she perfectly sums up my feelings about some of the major political moments in recent history. Moments that have been difficult for me to find the words for myself, because they’re complicated and emotional. One of my favorite chapters is the one where she discusses the night Bin Laden was killed. “There was no restoring any one of those losses, I knew,” she says, of the thousands of lives lost on 9/11. “Nobody’s death would ever replace a life. I’m not sure anyone’s death is reason to celebrate ever, but what America got that night was a moment of release. A chance to feel its own resilience.” Perfectly said. Just perfectly said.
This goes too for the chapter when she discusses the leak of Trump’s infamous 2005 tape just before the 2016 election. I have many feelings about this tape. It was the moment when things officially clicked into place for me, the straw on the camel’s back. I’ve never been able to fully sum up what hearing that tape meant to me, but she does it perfectly: “…a tape would surface of Donald Trump in an unguarded moment, bragging to a TV host in 2005, about sexually assaulting women, using language so lewd and vulgar, that it put media outlets in a quandary about how to quote it without violating the established standards of decency. In the end, the standards of decency were simply lowered in order to make room for the candidate’s voice. When I heard it, I could barely believe it. And then again, there was something painfully familiar in the menace and male jocularity of that tape. I can hurt you and get away with it…every woman I know recognized it….Dominance, even the threat of it, is a form of dehumanization. It’s the ugliest kind of power.” Everything about this description of this moment in history rings true for me. She put into simple words what I felt that day, and what those words mean to me, still today.
Straightforward yet poetic and accessible, Becoming is now one of my all-time favorite memoirs, and Michelle Obama is now officially on my fantasy dinner party list.
Michelle Obama and I could not be more different.