“Becoming,” by Michelle Obama, is her journey growing up in the South Side of Chicago in arguably a model black family household: married parents, an athletically inclined brother and sharp minded young Obama. As the story evolves, Obama peeled back her tough exterior to show moments of feeling “Not good enough” navigating Princeton and then Harvard Law School. Then, she shared snippets of her once in a life time—eight years’ worth of—experience as the first lady of the United States of America; despite not being a fan of public life. The backdrop of this memoir is the story of an amazing woman who rear view mirrors her life to give her audience a few gems of wisdom and missteps in a linear way.
I am bias against celebrity written books. Often, they’re written by someone else to capture their voice and eat up way too much retail space for full-time writers. So, I wondered if Obama penned “Becoming?” Not only did she but the whole world loved it.
Although, the world loved “Becoming” I found it challenging to crush on. Why? The prose was clear but less imaginative. Still, there were moments that stayed with me. She lifted the veil about tough topics like going to therapy to save her marriage, the difficulty of conceiving (I can only imagine the courage it took to be this vulnerable) and trying to hold on to herself without losing too much ground to young Barack Obama’s political ambitions to become President of the United States of America.
Obama fully embraced her African Americanness but never condemned the systemic oppression that all of us poor, rich, gay or straight face in the U.S. (I know it’s not her responsibility and if she did she’d just get painted as a “Angry Black Woman.”) But without speaking more openly about it readers particularly young ones are more susceptible to think the U.S. is a meritocracy.
Instead, Obama’s book embodies the pragmatism of her now immortalized line, “When they go low, we go high.” This is clearly shown in the Pastor Jeremiah Wright controversy that ultimately severed the ties between the Obamas and the pastor who married them. In 2008, more than a handful of media outlets ran sound bite airings of some of his most fiery statements denouncing terrible actions committed by the United States. Obama could have set the record straight, spread further the already severed ties but chose to write it off as an angry man upset over past grievances.
One of the most enlightening aspects of her memoir was her disclosure about how President Barack and her raised: Sasha and Malia. She empowered them to suggest their own curfews and held them accountable. As someone who did not grow up in a two-parent household but hopes to raise a family in one, I was intrigued. Furthermore, she wrote about after working extremely hard on becoming a lawyer, she ultimately didn’t like it. How many of us have found ourselves in similar situations?
Overall, “Becoming” was an interesting read that I didn’t love. Maybe it lacked the sharp prose and figurative language I would get from a novelist. Maybe my expectations were too lofty which interrupted my ability to enjoy Obama’s words. However, I could see myself teaching a chapter or two. And I would tell a potential reader sampling pages in an independently black-owned book store to, “discover her words for yourself.”
Rashaun J. Allen is the first Fulbright scholar in SUNY Stony Brook’s MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program history. A Vermont Studio Center and Arts, Letters, and Numbers residency recipient whose three independently published poetry collections: A Walk Through Brooklyn, In The Moment, and The Blues Cry For A Revolution became Amazon Kindle Best Sellers in African American Poetry. He has been a 2019 Tupelo Press 30/30 Project Poet, nominated for Sundress Publication’s 2018 Best of the Net Anthology in Creative Non-Fiction and was a 2017 Steinberg Essay Contest Finalist in Fourth Genre. His writing has appeared in TSR: The Southampton Review, Tishman Review, Rigorous, Auburn Avenue, Poui, and River Styx.