Like the majority of the globe, I've been enchanted by the Obamas since they arrived on the national stage and have greeted the end of the Obama era with sadness, anger, and a deep respect for the President and the First Family. Watching Michelle Obama find her voice on the national and then international stage has been wondrous to behold, and as a historian of American history, I am well aware that what the Obamas together created and achieved is a once in a generation (if not longer) set of accomplishments. Michelle's style, grace, humor, and steely resolve have helped me, a white woman, become better acquainted with myself and establish my own voice and vision with confidence.
But I did not see Michelle as the black community did. I mean, I assumed that her mere existence has been inspirational for black and brown women and girls around the world, but I didn't dwell much on the specificities of her achievements or the very personal ways in which the black community related to Michelle. This volume, a collection of essays written by various esteemed members of the black community (most of them female), brought me face to face with the reality of what she has done and will continue to do for African-American women and girls. I closed the book knowing a few things absolutely:
1. We will be discussing, defining, debating, and revising the importance of Michelle for many years to come.
2. Her presence and persistence in working to become and to live her most authentic self truly made an impact across so many fields and areas, from fashion and music to parenthood and political culture.
3. Many of those who admire Michelle do so, at least in part, because she's "flawlessly imperfect," unwilling to jettison her background, her blackness, her womanhood, her brilliant mind in order to appeal to one group or another (but this is not to say that she isn't constantly striving to better herself and her myriad of messages); they also feel as though she is imminently real and relatable. Almost every single essay featured a section in which the writer almost sheepishly declared something like, "I know I'm not as important or transcendent as Michelle and her husband are, but our lives have parallels and her experiences in some way match my own." That was what really struck me the most, the way in which the essayists felt somehow connected or even embraced by Michelle.
4. Michelle is just getting started.
This was an excellent read. I've spent so much time focusing on Obama and what he was able to accomplish, the way in which he wore his duties easily, his elegance, his style, his brilliance and confidence. So to be awakened to the lives Michelle touched as "mom in chief," First Lady, consummate hugger, and public figure was a delight. Her grace, humor, and resolve in the face of truly disgusting criticism and endless attempts to figuratively constrain her as a woman (and an unrepentant Black woman at that) has been truly and utterly amazing, a feat that few could manage successfully. Michelle is a revelation.