What happens when the United States’
former forever first lady-turned-bestselling author meets a woman considered one of the greatest writers of our time? The audience at Michelle Obama’s Becoming tour stop in London, England found out when she joined author and acclaimed feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for an hourlong conversation at The Royal Festival Hall on Monday.
According to British Vogue, the fellow phenoms reportedly dished like old friends, despite only meeting that day—which sounds about black girl magical, to us. Speaking about learning the power of her own particular brand of magic, Obama told Adichie:
“My parents believed my voice was relevant; that was the gift they gave me. You have to value a girl and let her speak.”
And yet, as we all know, a black woman’s voice isn’t always received in the tone intended, or with the respect afforded others. As she has increasingly been, Obama got candid about being repeatedly (and erroneously) characterized as an “angry black woman.”
“It’s all in chapter 17 of the book. That was the hardest chapter for me to write,” she told Adichie. “People will literally take our voices, they will take the things from us they like—they will take our hips—because all of a sudden it’s ‘in’—our style, our swagger, it becomes co-opted. But then, we are penalized, we are ‘angry,’ we are too loud, we are too everything. And I experienced that, just by having an opinion. How dare I have a voice and use it? It was a ‘don’t reach too high, don’t be too loud.’ You just have to slay the dragon in your own mind.”
Obama’s been slaying dragons in with her new memoir, for sure. According to her publisher, Penguin Random House, in its first 15 days of release, Becoming sold more than two million units; already, the hardcover edition has sold more copies than any other book published in the United States in 2018.
And yet, even after a No. 1 bestselling book, degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law, lucrative careers as an attorney and administrator, and eight years as one of the most beloved first ladies in history, Obama admits to still suffering “imposter syndrome.”
“‘Am I good enough’ is something that constantly haunts us as black women,” she confessed. “I still constantly think, ‘Gosh, you are here listening to me?’”
We certainly are—unlike current first lady Melania Trump, who didn’t accept Obama’s offer of support when she entered the White House, according to Becoming, and a subsequent 20/20 interview with Robin Roberts.
“Mrs. Trump is a strong and independent woman who has been navigating her role as First Lady in her own way,” Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham wrote to CNN, via email. “When she needs advice on any issue, she seeks it from her professional team within the White House.”
Seems to us Trump could use the feedback, given that she can’t even pick decent White House holiday decor... but Obama also had advice for another woman recently catapulted to international recognition: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (née Markle). In a recent cover story for Good Housekeeping, Obama related to the role of the new royal.
“Like me, Meghan probably never dreamed that she’d have a life like this, and the pressure—from yourself and from others—can sometimes feel like a lot. So my biggest advice would be to take some time and don’t be in a hurry to do anything,” Obama advised.
“I spent the first few months in the White House mainly worrying about my daughters, making sure they were off to a good start at school and making new friends, before I launched into more ambitious work,” she continued, giving relevant advice, since the duchess is now pregnant. “Once I was ready, I chose to work on issues that I had a strong personal passion for. ... There’s so much opportunity to do good with a platform like that — and I think she can maximize her impact for others, as well as her own happiness, if she’s doing something that resonates with her personally.”
You know who resonates with us personally? Michelle Obama. Here’s to Becoming the best we can be.