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.


Photo Credit: slideshare


Medical Monday



Using DNA To Trace Michelle Obama’s Past


First Lady Michelle Obama always suspected that she had white ancestors. But she had no idea who they were. With DNA testing and research, I was able to solve that mystery and finally identify the white forbears who had remained hidden in her family tree for more than a century.

All across the country, growing numbers of people are turning to DNA testing as a tool to help unlock the secrets of their roots, using companies such as, among others. When I started researching my new book, “American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama,’’ I pored over historical documents that I found in local archives, courthouses and libraries as well as records that I found online on and other state and local databases. But I knew that DNA testing would be the only way to unearth the truth.

I suspected that Mrs. Obama’s white ancestors belonged to the white Shields family that had owned her great-great-great grandmother, Melvinia Shields. So I persuaded several descendants of the black and white Shields to do DNA testing.

The results showed that the two families were related. The DNA testing indicated that Melvinia’s owner’s son was the likely father of Melvinia’s biracial child, Dolphus Shields. (Dolphus Shields is the first lady’s great-great grandfather.)

This was painful news for many of the Shields descendants. They knew that that Melvinia might have been raped and that their kinship originated during slavery, one of the darkest chapters of our history.

But last month, members of both sides of the family – black and white — put aside the pain of the past. They got together for the very first time in Rex, Georgia at a ceremony to commemorate Melvinia’s life. They swapped family stories, posed for photographs, exchanged phone numbers and had a meal together.

It was something to see.

David Applin, who is Melvinia’s great-grandson, said the reunion was “wonderful.” And Jarrod Shields, who is the great-great-great grandson of Melvinia’s owner, described it as a day “my family will never forget.”


This story was contributed by guest blog author Rachel L. Swarns

Rachel L. Swarns has been a reporter for the New York Times since 1995. She has written about domestic policy and national politics, reporting on immigration, the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008, and First Lady Michelle Obama and her role in the Obama White House. She has also worked overseas for the New York Times, reporting from Russia, Cuba, and southern Africa, where she served as the Johannesburg bureau chief. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.