As President Barack Obama’s term as president comes to close, leaving with him will be Michelle Obama, the first lady who during her time in the White House has served as a fashion icon, anti-obesity activist, social commentator, and as the “mother-in-chief” to two daughters — among her many other roles. To pay tribute to Michelle’s time in the White House, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, feminist Gloria Steinem, biographer Jon Meacham, and actress Rashida Jones have penned letters to the first lady, commemorating her for, as Steinem put it, “[changing] history in the most powerful way — by example.”
For Adiche, Michelle’s triumph as first lady was a victory, not only for her, but for black women across the country. “Because she said what she thought, and because she smiled only when she felt like smiling, and not constantly and vacuously, America’s cheapest caricature was cast on her: the Angry Black Woman,” recalled Adiche. Michelle, noted Adiche, was also accused of not being patriotic by her critics — a charge leveled due to her admission during the run-up to the 2008 election that she had not always been proud of her country.
“Of course she loved her country. The story of her life as she told it was wholesomely American,” wrote Adiche. “But she is also a descendant of slaves, those full human beings considered human fractions by the American state. And ambivalence should be her birthright.”
To Steinem, Michelle is exemplary not only for her work as a lawyer and as the nation’s first black first lady, but for doing “what no other first lady … [has] succeeded in doing: She has lived a public life without sacrificing her privacy and authenticity.” Her feelings about the racial bias directed toward her, Steinem noted, Michelle contained “until her husband could no longer be politically punished.” Steinem also praised Michelle for her role as a wife and mother, calling her “the best kind of mother, which means insisting that fathers be equal parents,” and noting that she had “never seen such balance and equal parenting, such love, respect, mutuality and pleasure in each other’s company.”
Over the course of the recent Trump-Clinton presidential campaign, Steinem added, “Michelle has become one of the most effective public speakers of our time.” Whether Michelle decides to use her abilities to run for Senate, direct global initiatives, or simply lead a private life, Steinem is sure she will be successful. “Whatever she decides,” Steinem wrote, “I trust her judgement.”
Read the full story at The New York Times.