Michelle Obama’s new memoir, “Becoming,” is chock-full of never-before-heard stories from the former first lady’s childhood and eight years in the White House.
Obama is startlingly candid about a wide variety of topics, from her shock after learning that Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential election to her being labelled an “angry black woman” by racists.
There are plenty of heartfelt moments too, such as the kindness that President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush showed her after her husband, President Barack Obama, was elected, and the time she and her daughter Malia snuck out of the White House.
It’s these anecdotes that made the book a top-seller on Amazon for Cyber Monday.
Here are some of the most interesting anecdotes Obama shares in the book:
- Her family’s focus on education alienated Obama from her friends on the South Side of Chicago growing up.She recalls that one day, when she was about 10, a cousin asked her, “How come you talk like a white girl?” While she denied it at the time, Obama wrote that the accusation “held a kernel of something that was confusing for both of us,” adding, “We seemed to be related but of two different worlds.”
- A pivotal moment of Obama’s life was when a college counselor told her she wasn’t “Princeton material” despite being in the top of her class at a magnet school, in student government, a member of the National Honour Society, and the sister of a current Princeton student. She decided to apply anyway and got in. “I wasn’t going to let one person’s opinion dislodge everything I thought I knew about myself,” she said.
- When she got to Princeton, she realised that the other students weren’t smarter than her, as she had been led to believe. “I tried not to feel intimidated when classroom conversation was dominated by male students, which it often was. Hearing them, I realised that they weren’t smarter than the rest of us. They were simply emboldened, floating on an ancient tide of superiority, buoyed by the fact that history had never told them anything different.”
- She was not impressed with Barack before she met him in 1989, when he was assigned as her mentee while he completed a summer associateship at her law firm. The office assistants, who had seen him come in to interview, said he was cute, but Michelle said she was “unmoved” by the picture she saw of him in the staff directory: “a less than flattering, poorly lit headshot of a guy with a big smile and a whiff of geekiness.”
- She described Barack’s style as “challenged.”She recalled one night, before they started dating, when she invited him to a happy hour with her friends. “He changed out of his work clothes, I noticed, and was wearing a white linen blazer that looked as if it’d come straight out of the Miami Vice costume closet. Ah well.”
- Five-year-old Sasha was less than impressed with the White House when Michelle took her daughters on a tour in 2006, when Barack was a senator. When the tour guide said they were moving on to the Red Room, Sasha looked up “and blurted, in the unquiet voice of an aggrieved kindergartner, ‘Oh nooo, not another ROOM!'”
- After the 2008 presidential election, the Bush family invited the Obamas to the White House, as is tradition. Barack’s favourite part of the tour was the gym – something he shared with President George W. Bush. Michelle’s was seeing her future dressing room, which offered a view of the Rose Garden and the Oval Office. Laura Bush said that Hillary Clinton “had shown her this same view when she’d first come to visit the White House eight years earlier,” and that “eight years before that, her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush, had pointed out the view to Hillary.” Michelle said that looking out that window reminded her “that I was part of a humble continuum.”
- On her husband refusing the $US100,000 in federal funds to move to and redecorate the White House: “As long as I’ve known him, he’s been this way: extra vigilant when it comes to matters of money and ethics, holding himself to a higher standard than even what’s dictated by law. There’s an age-old maxim in the black community: You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as far.”
- They blasted Beyoncé in the presidential limo after walking the parade route during Barack’s first inauguration.
- On what it felt like to become the first black first lady: “As the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House, I was ‘other’ almost by default. If there was a presumed grace assigned to my white predecessors, I knew it wasn’t likely to be the same for me. I’d learned through the campaign stumbles that I had to be better, faster, smarter and stronger than ever. My grace would have to be earned.”
- On how the custom Jason Wu gown she wore to her first inaugural ball made her feel ready to take on the role of first lady: “The dress resurrected the dreaminess of my family’s metamorphosis, the promise of this entire experience, transforming me if not into a full-blown ballroom princess, then at least into a woman capable of climbing onto another stage. I was now FLOTUS – First Lady of the United States – to Barack’s POTUS. It was time to celebrate.”
- Obama said she had to walk a “thin line” when it came to dressing. “I was supposed to stand out without overshadowing others, to blend in but not fade away. As a black woman, too, I knew I’d be criticised if I was perceived as being showy and high-end, and I’d be criticised also if I was too casual. So I mixed it up. I’d match a high-end Michael Kors skirt with a T-shirt from Gap. I wore something from Target one day and Diane von Furstenberg the next.”
- She noticed two things at her husband’s first speech before a joint session of Congress. The first was the lack of diversity, which she called “glaring” and “embarrassing” for “a modern multicultural country.” She was also disappointed in the behaviour of the Republicans, who “stayed seated through most of” his speech, “appearing obstinate and angry, their arms folded and their frowns deliberate, looking like children who hadn’t gotten their way.” She said that after the event, she wondered whether “there was any path forward.”
- She found life in the White House patriarchal.“Barack was now surrounded by people whose job was to treat him like a precious gem. It sometimes felt like a throwback to some lost era, when a household revolved solely around the man’s needs, and it was the opposite of what I wanted our daughters to think was normal.”
- On why she decided to start the White House garden: “I knew what mattered to me. I didn’t want to be some sort of well-dressed ornament who showed up at parties and ribbon cuttings. I wanted to do things that were purposeful and lasting.”
- She was giving a speech when news of the Sandy Hook shooting broke. As soon as she wrapped up, her aides informed her of what had happened and said her husband wanted her to return to the White House right away. “This would be the only time in eight years that he’d request my presence in the middle of the work day,” she said, adding: “When I walked into the Oval Office, Barack and I embraced silently. There was nothing to say. No words.”
- Bo and Sunny, the family’s two dogs, acted as surrogates of sorts for Malia and Sasha. “Knowing that Malia and Sasha were basically off-limits, the White House communications teams began requesting the dogs for official appearances … They made excellent ambassadors, impervious to criticism and unaware of their own fame.”
- Michelle was extremely anxious on election night 2012. The first lady sent a text to aides early in the night to ask how things were going, but she didn’t get a response and feared that Mitt Romney had pulled ahead. She said she was “just about ready to pass out from the anxiety” when Barack entered their bedroom, completely relaxed. “We’re kicking butt,” he said. “It’s basically done.” She later learned that the service on her phone had disconnected and that her texts never sent.
- Michelle and Malia sneaked out of the White House to see the presidential residence bathed in rainbow lights after the monumental Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in 2015. They strode past guards but ran into issues when the door they were trying to use was locked. Staff members led them to loading doors where they were able to get out to view the lights together. “Malia and I leaned into each other, happy to have found our way here,” she said.
- Queen Elizabeth II had a sassy remark when she urged Michelle to sit next to her on the drive back to Windsor Castle during their last meeting, even though Michelle and Barack were told that Barack would get that seat. “‘Did they give you some rule about this?’ [the queen] said, dismissing all the fuss with the wave of her hand. ‘That’s rubbish. Sit wherever you like.'”
- On why she decided to give a speech supporting Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention:“Since childhood, I’d believed it was important to speak out against bullies while also not stooping to their level. And to be clear, we were now up against a bully, a man who among other things demeaned minorities and expressed contempt for prisoners of war, challenging the dignity of our country with practically every utterance.”
- Her reaction when Donald Trump announced his candidacy, in a press conference during which he called Mexican immigrants “rapists”: “I figured he was just grandstanding, sucking up the media’s attention because he could. Nothing in how he conducted himself suggested that he was serious about wanting to govern.”
- She said she’d “never forgive” Trump for calling into question her husband’s citizenship. Michelle said that when Trump started questioning Barack’s citizenship, “it seemed he was just making noise in general, surfacing on cable shows to offer yammering, inexpert critiques of Barack’s foreign policy decisions and openly questioning whether he was an American citizen.” She said she found the birther controversy “crazy and mean spirited… its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed.” With all the hatred directed at her husband and family, she grew concerned about their safety. “Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.”
- On Trump’s “grab them by the p—y” tape: “My body buzzed with fury after hearing that tape,” she said, adding that she decided to address it directly at a speech for Clinton the following week. “I felt compelled to try to address Trump’s words directly – to counter his voice with my own.”
- Obama said she was baffled at how women supported Trump in the 2016 election. “I will always wonder about what led so many women, in particular, to reject an exceptionally qualified female candidate and instead choose a misogynist as their president.”
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