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127 MIN READ TIME

Succeeding While Black

MICHELLE OBAMA’S POPULARITY is a remarkable political feat. Her ascent into the public spotlight, after all, began as a receptacle of right-wing misogynoir. From the suggestions that she was ill tempered to the hideous portrayals of her as male or some kind of primate hybrid, Obama endured scrutiny unprecedented in the history of the role of first lady. This was hardly surprising given that the pageantry and pomp of the office had become synonymous with white and wealthy “ladies.” Her opponents were quick to cast Obama—the dark-skinned Chicago native—as decidedly un-ladylike, characterizing her instead as an anti-American political militant.

Sensitive to these portrayals, Obama acquiesced when her staff asked her to soften her gestures and play down her political contributions to Barack’s first campaign run. In her new book, Becoming, Obama describes how campaign aids encouraged her to “play to my strengths and to remember the things I most enjoyed talking about, which was my love for my husband and kids, my connection with working mothers, and my proud Chicago roots.” Together, the Obamas became disciplined in responding to racist attacks to avoid playing into stereotypes. As Obama has famously said, “when they go low, we go high.”

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