First ladies both feed into, and reflect, our patriarchal values, and so, in this world still so intolerant of female domination, making their husbands look good inevitably involves diminishing themselves, and a decoupling from their own achievements, so as not to outshine the president.
…But this protective love of Obama’s childhood did not shut out the communal sense of suffering and injustice that is, for any observer of America, impossible to avoid. The neighbourhood she grew up in was transformed by white flight, and later “deteriorated under the grind of poverty and gang violence”. An early experience with the police via her beloved brother Craig taught her that “the colour of our skin made us vulnerable.” Persistent experiences of discrimination bred in her family “a basic level of resentment and mistrust”.
Most of Obama’s narrative on race, however, comes courtesy not of her own perspective, but that of the many commentators who weaponised her blackness against her. “The rumours and slanted commentary always carried less than subtle messaging about race, meant to stir up the deepest and ugliest kind of fear within the [white] voting public.
…The New Yorker magazine cover depicting her as an armed Black Panther, for example, the time Fox News ran an onscreen graphic describing her as Barack Obama’s “Baby Mama” – like the earlier “welfare queen” trope, a dog whistle appeal to the idea that, if the black family is at the root of America’s problems, how could one of them possibly be part of its solution? Or the time Fox host Bill O’Reilly said: “I don’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there is evidence.”
…During Barack Obama’s tenure, it was Michelle Obama’s roots in the African American experience, in the history of the south that she understood innately as “knit into me”, that lent him crucial legitimacy among black voters. It resurfaces here, adding the profound warnings of past suffering to the observation that, as she sees the Trumps take over the White House, …“the kind of overwhelmingly white and male tableau I’d encountered so many times”.