Michelle Obama Comes Into Her Own

The first lady's DNC speech may have ended the "angry black woman" notions that used to haunt her.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Fellow journalists immediately came to Kantor’s defense, calling the book’s portrayal of Michelle Obama well-reported, nuanced and largely positive. But after nearly four years of shielding herself against personal attacks and character assassinations, can you really blame the first lady for being over it all? With the long history of black women’s portrayal in the media as “just too much” shadowing Obama’s every move, it’s no wonder the first lady became weary of the critical words being written about her. And after Tuesday’s speech, those depictions might finally be a thing of the past.

CNN pundits wondered if the first lady’s speech would change history. “If Barack Obama is re-elected on Nov. 6, he will owe more to his first lady than any president ever to win a second term,” wrote Gordon Stewart, a former deputy chief speechwriter to President Jimmy Carter. In a heartfelt op-ed, author and political analyst Sophia Nelson asserted that Michelle’s appearance on Tuesday “redefined black women.”

Nelson wrote: “She effortlessly destroyed harsh stereotypes about who black women are, and made us something we rarely ever get to be in public: feminine, soft, vulnerable, loving, warm, proud, compassionate, smart, affirmed, dynamic, bold, reflective, humble and fun all at once.”

President Obama began his own speech Thursday night by first acknowledging what a boon his wife Michelle has been not only to his life but really all of our lives: “A few nights ago everyone was reminded just what a lucky man I am,” he said.

Choosing the word “reminded” as opposed to “witnessed” was strategic. In the president’s eyes, and those of most people who’ve been paying attention to her evolution, Michelle Obama didn’t just pop up on convention night 2012 like her husband did eight years before. She has always been that woman — “passionate,” patriotic and persistent  — over whom the country currently can’t stop fawning. People are only now catching up.

So when the first lady said of her husband, “Being the president doesn’t change who you are – no, it reveals who you are,” she could have just as easily been talking about herself.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

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