Book Review

Becoming by Michelle Obama

A Book Review


Susan Graham

I bought Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir because I had always liked her public persona and thought I would like her personal one. I was wrong. You really won’t like my review if you really want to love Michelle Obama no matter what. All I’m asking is that you read the entire book with an open mind before you criticize my critique.

First, let me get this out of the way. I am involved with advocacy for multiracial children. Barack Obama, Michelle’s husband, of course, is multiracial although he publicly self-identifies as black. Fair enough, but Michelle refers to him as a “hybrid” (page 98). I find that highly offensive. Hybrid is a term is usually used to refer to the offspring of animals or plants of different breeds. It is not normally used for humans, especially children. Shame on Michelle. He has referred to himself as a “mutt,” which is just as bad. Becoming, make no mistake, is about race. More about that later. Let’s stay on Barack Obama for a moment. He is the son of a black man and a white mother. He can say he’s black all he wants, it’s his choice, but if he or his children ever need a bone marrow donor, they will look to the multiracial community, no doubt about that. Michelle also writes that it’s “hard to pin down his ethnicity” on page 117. Huh? I think it’s pretty simple: his black father is from Kenya and his white mother is from Kansas.

This is a book filled with racial-speak on every page of the over 400-page book. Mrs. Obama assigns everyone a race based on her observations. Only once does Michelle Obama dare to breathe a word for a white woman with “mixed-race” grandchildren (page 244) and even then she can’t write “biracial” or “multiracial.” What’s wrong with this picture? I’ll tell you. Michelle doesn’t even entertain the thought of people not being multiracial. She clearly holds on to the old one-drop rule that one-drop of “black blood” makes you black. Biracial or multiracial people, especially children, don’t exist.

Every single reference in Becoming is about race. She makes certain to let us know that there are servants in the White House who are “African American” or “black.” It’s obvious that self-identification doesn’t count—its Michelle Obama identification. If someone is white, she uses euphemisms: blond, brunette, “sipping wine with wealthy women”: suburban, etc. Why does everyone in Michelle Obama’s world have to have a color introduction? Can’t we just be people? No, not in her world. Isn’t it the high road to treat everyone the same? How can we one day do away with racial categories if people like her keep pigeonholing everyone?

Michelle Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago and sets out to prove that made a difference in her life—growing up middle-class black in what could be called a ghetto by some; she even refers to it that way. But let me tell you, she only proves that you can take the South Side out of the girl. An example of this is the $3,900 pair of thigh-high, gold sparkly boots she wore on the last night of her book campaign. She flaunted the pricey Balenciaga boots, which matched her Balenciaga dress. I’d say she’s come very far from the South Side.

It saddens me to think that Michelle Obama has segregated her world. Yes, it’s easy to do and I’m sure there are many people who haven’t even read the book, but who will disagree with me based on their perception of the writer of this book. It’s too bad.

I’m disappointed. I wanted to like this book and its author and I don’t. I came away from it thinking that when she goes low, the rest of us should go high.


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Real American: A Memoir BOOK REVIEW

Book Review by Susan Graham

Real American: A Memoir

Real American

I read a review of Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims in The New York Times yesterday. It said Julie Lythcott-Haims’ new memoir is about growing up biracial. It’s not. It’s about growing up black.

If you want to get really angry, read this book. In fact, it should be required reading for anyone even thinking about being in an interracial relationship and especially parents of multiracial children. In so many ways, it’s a primer on what not to do. To me, as the mother of multiracial children—now adults—it is reassuring that I raised them to embrace their entire heritage.

Lythcott-Haims claims early in the book that her parents had entered into some type of “interracial child experiment that was failing.” Experiment? Would people actually do that? Throughout the book, the author lashes out at her parents—mostly her mother—for any number of ways they let her down and made her identify as black, but in other places, she is proud of her black identity. It’s confusing.

What is very clear is that this biracial woman felt she had to make a choice. She is crazy angry at everyone and everything, yet she doesn’t get that she could have embraced all of her incredibly stunning heritage and, perhaps, celebrated that. No, being biracial is not just a way to acknowledge her white mother, as she says; it is a way of acknowledging herself. She just couldn’t get there.

It angers me that this author didn’t do her homework. She glosses over the entire multiracial movement with an offhand comment about the Census Bureau making “new terms” in the 1990s, as if it was their idea and not that of the many parents who led the action to get the government to even consider counting people as more than one race. We were everywhere and I find it amazing that an interracial family would have been hiding under a rock big enough to miss it entirely.

The author is completely preoccupied with the color of her children, who she refers to as “quadroon children,” “Black,” and “mulatto.” To her, they are more colors than people, which I just don’t understand. That she is angry at the plight of black people in America and all over the world, is obvious—I’m just as angry about it! She would say that wasn’t possible because I’m not black. Not true. Black lives matter to me, too. Multiracial lives matter to me, as well.

Much of what Lythcott-Haims is trying to say is that what matters is how other people see you. If they see you as black, you are black. As my son told congress, it is how he sees himself that matters. Does he know other people see him as black? Absolutely. Interracial families are not blind and stupid. We teach our children about all of their cultures and how people might look at them and classify them on their personal color scale. We get it; we live it, too.

The one thing the author and I agree on is that racism will never go away and that is why everyone needs to read about those of us who have been through it. You’ll have to read about both sides, search your heart, make your own decisions, and neither the author nor I can make it for you. I respect that you may choose for your children to identify as only one race. I just wish more people would respect that they may choose to be multiracial.