PTW Pick - Becoming
Written by: Ashley Coleman
If I had to sum it up, Michelle Obama’s new book Becoming was full of ah-ha moments as Auntie Oprah would call them. I was extremely excited to read the book, but it was full of things I didn’t expect. The first, being the tears, but we’ll get into that a little later.
The book sat in my Amazon cart from the moment it was available for presale, but somewhere along the way, I decided that I wanted to support an independent bookseller instead, so I waited. But I waited too long only leave for a short trip to the Cayman Islands with nothing slated to read. So, I ended up buying it at the airport to my dismay, though I was still amped to dig into the memoir from the only First Lady we acknowledge.
I’m not sure I was as tuned into Mrs. Obama during Barack’s eight years in office. But there were a few things I knew. That I adored her. That she was outrageously stylish. That she was really defining the role for herself. And that she was one of the only people in this world that I may lose all my sense in meeting. So, it was beyond cool to feel like I was getting a glimpse into her world.
The book really divided itself into three parts, her beginnings on the South side of Chicago, her professional career and meeting Barack, and their time spent as the First Family of the United States. The first thing that I didn’t expect was that Michelle was a real person, like me, like you. I saw her humanity before of course, but reading the initial chapters gave me not only the sense that she was a real person, but that she was me. That I could have been her. That there wasn’t so much separating our experiences, hers on the South side of Chicago and mine in the Uptown section of Philadelphia, from one another.
The moment I felt it was through this excerpt that says:
“I looked at them both, unsure of what to say. My mother glanced at me, her eyes soft. My father changed out of his work uniform and into a clean white shirt. They were in their early forties then, married nearly twenty years. Neither one of them had ever vacationed in Europe. They never took beach trips or went out to dinner. They didn’t own a house. We were their investment, me and Craig. Everything went into us.”
Sure, my parents owned their home, but I have seen places they may never see and been afforded opportunities they may never be able to take advantage of. In so many ways, I feel like I was my parents’ investment as well and it is one of the major driving forces behind the insatiable hunger to be somebody and do something worthwhile with my life. To “pay them back” as if I ever really could. I knew exactly what that felt like and Mrs. Obama would continue to hit similar chords with me.
From “talking like a white girl,” to being moved out of spaces where I would likely not have been able to excel, to being a “box checker” always trying to get things right. Michelle Obama was a black girl, a lot like me.
Sure, our paths lead us different ways. I wouldn’t have dared applied to an Ivy League school, but those beginnings, the lingering question of “being enough” all resonated quite loudly with me.
I think we can all agree that we were swooning over her discussion of her and Barack’s courtship. I mean, did she luck up or what? Ha! Kidding, we all know he’s the lucky one. But more honestly, you saw the struggle. She wrote candidly about the fact that there were a lot of times he just wasn’t there after running for the State Senate. The path that took them down and the struggle to fight for their marriage, for their family. She gave us insight into the thinker that he was and his ability to separate his feelings in order to do the work of bettering the community. She let us into the fact that she was more than reluctant to jump into the arena of politics because let’s face it, Black folks don’t really trust the government in many ways.
In the book, I was humbled by her sacrifice, grateful for her honesty, and relieved once it was all over and knowing that she would finally have the space to be free.
And so, the tears. Well, they came when she spoke of losing her friend Suzanne. Similarly I lost a good friend in high school that introduced me to life as it is. This passage totally embodied those feelings of grief.
“What I was thinking as I finally left her body in that hospital room was this: She’s gone and I’m still here. Outside in the hallway, there were people wandering in hospital gowns far older and sicker looking than Suzanne, and they were still here. I would take a packed flight back to Chicago, drive along a busy highway, and ride an elevator up to my office. I’d see all these people looking happy in their cars, walking the sidewalk in their summer clothes, sitting idly in cafes, and working at their desks, all of them oblivious to what happened to Suzanne … It felt perverse how the world just carried on.”
And more tears came hearing of her father’s dedication and his strength to work through such a debilitating disease as MS. When she spoke of his death and her family sitting around the kitchen table with one empty chair crying until they laughed at how “messy” they all were. They came with her stories of election night and remembering what it felt like when Barack won. I felt grateful that all her sacrifice led somewhere and that even in the midst of insurmountable odds stacked up against him, they won.
There were plenty laughs too, like her and Malia frantically trying to escape the White House just to see the lights. Her and Barack’s first meeting that he was late for and so many more.
What I may have loved the most about the book, was that I could hear her speak as I read. See, as a writer myself, voice can be one of the trickiest things to settle into. To get what’s in your head onto a page, make it make sense but also be an extension of your voice, is a heavy feat. But she did it with so much style, grace, and swagger. I mean, could we expect any less?
I didn’t need lofty phrases or poetic prose, she brought us into each moment. Into the South side. Into Sidley & Austin. Into the fierce love between her and Barack. And into the White House.
Those overarching themes of “The world as it is, and as it should be,” “Am I enough” and “Courage” tied all of her stories together neatly into a 421 page package. It was a breeze to read, entertaining, and just enough tea to keep you turning pages without changing your mind about them being some of the best folks to walk this Earth.
She deserves every million sold. What a win for us, for her, for Black girls in urban cities everywhere that make it out, open doors for others to make it out too, and hopefully, like Mrs. Obama, will inspire generations.
Cheers to all of our becoming, the growth that we’ve seen and the growth that lies ahead of us.