In her hagiographic review of “Becoming,” Michelle Obama’s journey to the White House, Isabel Wilkerson chooses to emphasize the number of previous First Ladies who were daughters of wealthy merchants, showing how far the black First Lady had to climb. (Sunday Book Review NYT 12/22/18)
She fails to mention some of the 20th century First Ladies such as Bess Truman, whose father killed himself because of mounting debt; Betty Ford, whose father was a traveling salesman for Royal Rubber Co., who ironically died of carbon monoxide poisoning while fixing his car; Rosalynn Carter, whose father was a mechanic and farmer. She neglects to add that no First Lady before Michelle had the privilege of attending Princeton and Harvard Law School and that her chances for both admissions were undoubtedly enhanced by her minority status.
Like Chirlane McCray, First Lady of New York who has written about her feelings of resentment at being an outsider at Wellesley College, Michelle writes about Princeton where she picked up “the quiet, cruel nuances of not belonging.” How different both these women are from Sonia Sotomayor who expressed enormous gratitude for the tutoring and mentoring she received at Princeton to bring her up to a level where she could properly compete with the other students and continue to make it all the way to the Supreme Court on her own merits. Although I haven’t read “Becoming” yet, I am struck by there being no mention in Wilkerson’s rave review of an America that could jettison the cruel legacy of slavery, devote itself to affirmative action to help the victims of segregation mingle with the best and brightest in the country and incredibly, elect a bi-racial man as president for two terms. The pride in being an American should properly have been felt by the future First Lady at her own graduations from two of the most prestigious schools in the world. I doubt there’s another black woman who had the opportunity to earn comparable degrees and achievements anywhere else on this planet.
Wilkerson mentions that Michelle and Barack were married by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright “whose sermons would cause them trouble down the line.” She doesn’t specify that these were anti-semitic and anti-American diatribes that should have troubled them during the 20 years that they were members of his congregation and must have heard “God damn America” more than once or twice. There is a final irony in the review - Michelle describes Barack as ” a visionary with no material interests.” Wilkerson doesn’t mention the record-breaking $65 million advance the Obamas received by the publisher for their two books - one can only say God Bless America!!!
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