Dear Chapter 17 – Becoming by Michelle Obama

Synopsis – Goodreads 

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. 

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

For this review, I’m changing it up a bit. I’ve decided to write an open letter to my forever-first lady regarding a specific chapter from her memoir, Chapter 17. If you have not had a chance to read this book yet, I strongly recommend picking it up. There aren’t enough words to describe how amazing Becoming is.  

Dear Chapter 17,

To the Mother & Wife

I can only imagine how difficult it must’ve been to not only be apart of a presidential campaign but also become another face of the campaign. All while raising young children and maneuvering/figuring out your own career outside of your husband’s. 

The sacrifices, the stress, the fear, the uncertainty. And yet you smiled brightly for the cameras, showed love and appreciation to potential voters and most importantly carved out needed time for your children. You continuously made decisions for the betterment of the whole and not the individual. I not only applaud you but I am in awe of you. For I fear, if I was in your position, with a husband’s whose ambitions have the potential to swallow me whole, I would not be able to let go of my bit of independence (my career) for the sake of my family.

I was a full-time mother and wife now, albeit a wife with a cause and a mother who wanted to guard her kids against getting swallowed by that cause. It had been painful to step away from my work, but there was no choice. My family needed me, and that mattered more.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

To the Prospective First Lady 

Bullies. Often times we associate bullies with our younger years. When there were children on the playground not wanting to play with you … or worse. Or being huddled in a classroom, and hearing whispers of something not so nice filling the air as the teacher continued with his/her lesson plan. However, bullies also exist in our adult life in a different form. And how you handle a bully as a child compared to when you’re an adult is the true test.

I have to be honest and say this section of the chapter really made my blood boil. 

It is difficult to read or hear hurtful words. But when they’re untrue and laced with an undercurrent of racism, prejudice, and sexism, it is even more difficult. 

“For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.”

Michelle Obama, Soundbite from 2008 campaign speeches given in Milwaukee & Madison

Soundbites are, unfortunately, the vehicle of news in today’s fast-paced society. Context often gets thrown out the window, because virtually no one reads past the headline and negative comments outshine the positive. 

And unlike the portrayal of this soundbite by conservative media outlets during the 2008 campaign, this soundbite for me did not ring against patriotism, nor was the subtext hatred of America. But, instead, an acknowledgment of the possibility of a better future for the next generation in a country where minorities across the board (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc.) have often felt overlooked and less equal in the nation they call home. 

My blood boiled even more as I continued to listen to and read the consistent punches and attacks you endured. Phrases like “militant anger” and “Obama’s Baby Mama” showed just how far people were willing to go to diminish your platform.

When a reporter dissected your senior thesis paper, written when you were 21 years old, on the racial identity of Princeton’s Black Alumni, and then states “…it wasn’t written in any known language.” to support some claim that this was a revolutionary manifesto is when I understood even more so, how deep the rabbit hole of racism goes. It was as if there were some cartoon version of me out there wreaking havoc, a woman I kept hearing about but didn’t know— a too tall, too forceful, ready to emasculate Godzilla of a political wife named Michelle Obama.

I was female, black and strong, which to certain people, maintaining a certain mind-set, translated only to “angry.”

Michelle Obama, Becoming

This othering was not only uncalled for but it was hurtful, demeaning and cruel. And it was all because your husband dared to go after the most powerful seat in the world. 

It was difficult reading your pain and frustration as I too felt hurt by what was said. But it was more disheartening to think that maybe you started to see yourself through their warped eyes.

It was as if there were some cartoon version of me out there wreaking havoc, a woman I kept hearing about but didn’t know— a too tall, too forceful, ready to emasculate Godzilla of a political wife named Michelle Obama.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

From the 15-year-old young woman

And so, from the young woman in her sophomore year of high school who watched the 2008 campaign as diligently as she could, here is what I remember of you, my forever first-lady. 

I remember your bright smile when speaking to hundreds and thousands of people. I remember your grace and stature when you entered a room or arena. But most importantly, I remember seeing myself, a taller than average, black woman who’s career path (not politics, law) aligned with mine. I saw someone whose ambition-driven nature lead her through the halls of two prominent ivy league universities and was on her way to the second highest seat in the White House. I saw the woman I wanted to be and was hopeful of becoming. 

You were and still aren’t those terrible things that were said.

You were my hope for change. You were the goal I so badly wished to attain. And I am grateful that in my lifetime, I not only had the chance to witness history but I found my forever role model. 

Thank you, Mrs. Michelle Obama, for Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More. 


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