We basically all read Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. Or at least, we all bought it. And great for Michelle. I’m never one to begrudge a woman her coins.
What I didn’t get was my whole life, as I expected to get from this book. I’m not sure what exactly I expected from it, but I know it was more. Considering Michelle’s oft-repeated denial of any intention to seek any type of political office, I certainly expected her book to read less like an explanation of her husband’s (and her) political snafus and hiccups, and more like a “dis me” manifesto. Michelle gave us nuggets of realness in these pages, for sure, but she didn’t give us reads.
Don’t get me wrong. The writing is clear and concise. The tone is personable and you feel as if you are sitting down with Chellie, listening to her talk about life in a professorial, yet intimate, way. The people we all see on television are fleshed out into humans who have flaws and hopes and fights and therapy (gasp) like the rest of us. That is the black girl magic of this book for me. The rest of it was….
In writing this, and even thinking about it out loud with friends, I have had to recognize the extreme amount of privilege I havein my own life. Like Michelle, I grew up with two proud Black parents who worked hard and loved me harder. Like Michelle, I went to Harvard Law School after attending a top college (I dare anyone to tell me Spelman isn’t comparable to Princeton). Like Michelle, I came to a top law firm upon graduation from law school. The settings she describes prior to Barack’s political aspirations are the settings of my every day life. If they weren’t, this would inspire me a lot more. Right now, I’m just plotting on who in my circle is most likely to be in the White House one day and whether or not he is already taken (joking).
Then, there was the portion about Reverend Jeremiah Wright. I almost flipped the damn table when I got to this part of the book. As Michelle describes the publicized reel of Reverend Wright’s sermons that surfaced during Barack’s campaign and scandalized America, she describes what this tape contained as “the worst and most paranoid parts of the man.” She further opines, “[s]eeing an extreme version of his vitriol broadcast in the news, though, we were appalled.”
This is where you lose me. It took every fiber of will power in me to finish the book, but I can tell you that the enjoyment and excitement I felt starting it had stifled. If you aren’t planning for a political future, why address the Wright situation at all? What does it gain you? More importantly, what does denigrating this black man who you already abandoned during the campaign lose you? By the way, here is some of the “hateful rhetoric” that Michelle decries:
In the days after Black Lives Matter, Wright’s rhetoric is more normalized in the mainstream than it could have possibly been during Obama’s first run. However, Michelle still chooses to denouce it as “hateful.” Even as she recognizes that older Black folks feel this way and carry a weary mistrust of the country that has so wronged them, she simultaneously discounts those feelings as if they are not valid and completely in response to the actually racist overtures of the institutions in this country. I have reviewed the footage and the lie detector test has determined
Not a single lie.
Here’s another clip of Wright speaking about Obama’s experience as a Black man in America.
Why is Michelle still so intent on dredging up Reverend Wright’s name just to toss it under the bus? Honestly, I truly can’t fathom an answer…unless she actually believes what she writes in this book about Reverend Wright, which is the most disturbing possibility. Wright’s “rhetoric” is only hateful to a country that refuses to recognize its subjugation of Black citizens. Wright’s insistence on valuing Black bodies is only controversial to those who never have. Or, at least, it should be. His speech seems to be political, but really it isn’t. Valuing Black lives and stopping the subjugation of Black people should not be “partisan politics”…it should be a goal of every American.
Reverend Wright’s condemnation of the long-term systematic attack on Black people is not the scandal here. Rather, the fact that this scandalizes white America, still, is the scandal. And the idea that Michelle still won’t recognize this this is some bullshit…I don’t even know. Rarely does a single chapter, hell a few pages, color my entire reading of a book, but here we are. I just hope Michelle is still on her way to becoming more…just more.
Thanks to my friend for letting me join her book club discussion on Becoming.