We sometimes forget that the people we see through our television screens have a history too. A story. A life remembered, and in some cases, lost. Some personas are so much larger than life that we even take their existence for granted.
When I first read Michelle Obama’s Becoming, I was left speechless — in tears even, at certain moments.
In this powerful and intimate memoir of her life, Michelle Obama shows us what it takes to be a first lady, as well as a full-time mother, wife, and working woman chasing her dreams. But mostly, it’s a story of a young Black girl in America, who broke all the barriers, despite the punches she took, and came out winning.
From being told by her guidance counsellor that she wasn’t “Princeton material,” to being one of the few “poppyseeds in a bowl of rice” in the Princeton University student body, Michelle Obama shares insights into the harsh realities of being Black in America.
She also considers several instances where her Blackness impacted, and, in some cases, worsened her role as First Lady — “swampy parts of the internet” questioned and derided her early life, depicting her as a typical “welfare queen” — as well as her womanhood, when a congressman ridiculed her posterior in an effort to demean her.
The best part about all of this, however, is that her reflections on these black dots in her past are humble, as if she’s almost thankful for all her struggles because they eventually put her on a path that led to the White House.
In the first section, “Becoming Me,” we see a young, competitive Michelle Robinson in the small apartment on South Euclid Avenue in the South Side of Chicago that is her world. It is there that her mother and father teach her to be fierce and outspoken, where conversations on sex are welcome, and where she struggles with the reality of being not only a woman, who isn’t always encouraged to pursue her dreams, but also a Black woman in America.
We see her journey through Princeton, where she majors in sociology and minors in African-American studies, followed by a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1988.
The second section, and my favorite section, gives us an intimate glimpse into her relationship with Barack Obama. From their first ice-cream date, to her struggles with pregnancy, to her husband becoming the first Black president of the United States of America, “Becoming Us” is a story of the highs and lows that are a part of any marriage.
The third section, “Becoming More,” finally reveals her life as the First Lady in intricate detail. It takes us through kitchens in Iowa, dinners at the White House, and ballrooms at Buckingham Palace, showing us that everything is not as glamorous as it looks.
In one particular scene, she reflects on the dehumanization of Black people in America while looking at the walls of the White House. “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” she comments. It’s honest, if ugly, but it’s also pure and bold — and it’s her story full of courage.
From marriage counselling to the loss of her father, Michelle Obama lets us into the deepest moments of her life. It’s brave and it helps us realize that all of our stories weave into each other’s somehow; we’re all struggling, all passing mountains, and humanity can be cruel, but also kind.
The title reminds us that we’re always becoming something more and more each and every day. Just as Michelle Obama says, growing up isn’t finite. You don’t become something when you grow up and that’s the end. Just like her, we’re all becoming.