When I first learned that Michelle Obama was writing a memoir, one word emerged from the depths of my gut: No!
That reaction came from a protectiveness conceived on Nov. 4, 2008, in my childhood home in Jackson, Miss. The election results had confirmed the impossible — America was getting its first black president. My mom paced the house, shouting her thanks to God. My 90-year-old grandmother shed tears. Gunshots sounded in my neighborhood, which wasn’t unusual — but this time, they were followed by shouts of joy. I sat in front of the television in pure disbelief as I watched the four Obamas appear on stage, our incoming First Family and even more than that, our first black First Family.
It was the kind of dream that I was sure I’d awaken from, or worse, the kind that would be stolen. I grew up knowing that America had a tendency to vilify those who represented me. America had a tendency of literally taking their lives. For eight years, as I feared the dream would come to a devastating end, I watched as everything from the First Lady’s facial expressions to her physique were used to either make her an “angry black woman” or insinuate that she wasn’t a woman at all. Racist caricatures of her were created for laughs, and racism veiled as political discourse tried to prove that the Obamas were “un-American.”
But Becoming, Obama’s memoir, proves that her story is far more American than any of her detractors may ever realize. It is the perfect blend of the American dream and the American reality. As Obama herself has done, her book is breaking through. For weeks now, the memoir has been a news event. On its first day alone, it sold over 700,000 copies. And now that the book is out, it feels like a nation-wide celebration of a woman who was once ridiculed simply for existing.