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As a girl, Michelle was once caught by surprise when a bully punched her in the face. She has the same feeling now, when a video of one of her speeches is edited down to fourteen words: “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” The quote is from remarks Michelle has given many times, but out of context, it suggests that she carries a grudge against America. Other stories fuel the narrative: Rev. Wright, it comes out, expressed resentment toward whites in his sermons more than once, and Michelle’s Princeton senior thesis is offered as evidence that she has similar feelings by people that she calls “the haters.” Michelle finds herself feeling a bit angry about this. This leads her to comment that the circular logic of the stereotype of the “angry Black woman” can act as a trap for women who have perfectly valid reasons to raise their voices or be emotional or angry.
David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, now a campaign adviser, advise Michelle that, fairly or not, as a woman she must try harder than a man not to come across as angry. Michelle is given added staff and resources. Soon, she makes a well-received appearance on The View. Finally, after the Clinton campaign concedes, the path is clear for Barack to be the Democratic nominee. At the August convention, introduced by Craig and with her mother in the audience, Michelle gives a speech in which she talks about her father and about Barack. Afterward, Michelle knows she may have changed some people’s perceptions of her.
Michelle is growing used to life in the public eye, but she remembers a Fourth of July in Butte, Montana, that showed the importance of perspective. Toward the end of a long day, all four Obamas sat down for an interview that Michelle and Barack later decided put too much of a spotlight on the girls. An evening birthday party for Malia felt improvised and unsatisfactory. Malia, however, had a grand time: “best birthday ever.”
The general campaign is less stressful than the primaries, especially after Republican John McCain chooses the underprepared Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate and she become something of a joke. The stakes of the campaign go up, however, when the growing financial crisis sends the economy into a downward spiral. More than ever, Michelle feels that Barack is the right person for the moment.
Barack’s grandmother Toot dies of cancer, just ten days after one last visit from Barack and just two days before the election.
On election day morning, Michelle and Barack take the girls along to the polls before sending them off to school. After Barack teases Michelle for hesitating as she marks her ballot, he and Craig head off for a stress-relieving game of basketball. The polls show Barack ahead, but Michelle worries about the so-called Bradley effect, named after Tom Bradley, a Black Los Angeles mayor who lost the California governor’s race after leading consistently. Some voters, the theory goes, hide their prejudices from pollsters but express them at the ballot box. As the returns come in, however, it soon becomes clear that Barack and his running mate, Joe Biden, have won.
After Barack’s victory speech in Chicago’s harborside Grant Park, the mood of the late-night crowd seems, to Michelle, calm and reflective. This moment has been a long time coming.
As she moves into a more prominent position in the public eye, Michelle suffers racial and misogynistic attacks. Although she’d felt her speeches were successful, she is suddenly shocked when opponents seize on small remarks she has made to portray her as un-American, anti-white, and angry. These labels contradict the feelings of the connection she experienced while campaigning in white Iowa and traveling across the United States. The emergence of the “angry black woman” stereotype in the media threatens to invalidate her voice and causes Michelle to worry that Barack will not be elected due to the country’s inherent racial prejudice. Though she is frustrated and tempted to pull back, Michelle instead seeks media training. Through coaching, she understands how to present herself authentically while also guarding herself against potential attacks. She also understands the value of speaking to smaller groups and exchanging ideas, concerns, and stories more intimately. By focusing on core values and shared experiences, Michelle presents an accessible and genuine view of herself and her family to the American public.
In these final chapters of “Becoming Us,” Michelle also struggles to maintain normalcy for her children. Because Malia’s tenth birthday falls on the Fourth of July campaign outing planned in Butte, Montana, Michelle plans a more private celebration for the following week. Though the Obama girls have been largely sheltered from the public eye, in Butte they are on full display, and residents join the Obamas in celebrating Malia’s birthday. Michelle worries that the increased visibility will harm the girls, though she realizes that her children are more resilient than she expected and seem unfazed by the attention. Though Malia and Sasha are shadowed by the Secret Service as they play, they come to view the agents as adult friends rather than protectors. In Butte, Barack and Michelle agree to give their first family interview on Access Hollywood, and the girls are charming and silly, though the Obamas later regret putting their young children in the position to be quoted by the media. On Election Day, Malia and Sasha attend school after accompanying their parents to the voting booth. This detail shows Michelle’s dedication to maintaining normalcy for her children as well as her dedication to teaching them civic responsibility.