Earlier this month, Michelle Obama kicked off a book tour to promote her memoir, Becoming. Her tour includes two stops at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. My article focuses on her November 17 event, which featured a surprise and welcome drop by from her husband, former President Barack Obama. The evening carried an air of nostalgia, especially when a woman shouted, “We miss you!”
Before the sold-out event even started, there was a festive atmosphere as people entered the complex. There were the predictable souvenir booths as you entered. However, big lines flanked the corridors at the huge posters of Michelle, where people posed for group photos and selfies.
Speakers played hip hop, R&B, and pop tunes down in the seating area, where people danced in the aisles to while away the time until the former First Lady’s arrival. Once the seats were filled, the monitor onstage played the memorable skits that Michelle did with Ellen DeGeneres, James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke, Jimmy Fallon and more.
The tour cities feature different moderators. The interviewer on November 17 was Valerie Jarrett, a former top advisor to Barack Obama. The discussion covered Michelle’s childhood, education, marrying Barack, and experiences on the campaign trail and in the White House.
Michelle began by praising her parents for their hard work and the parenting styles. “We were not shushed. We were allowed to speak our minds and to ask questions. They encouraged our curiosity,” she reminisced.
She also credited both parents for helping her grow into a strong woman. Michelle particularly appreciated her father’s insistence on including her on any activities that were stereotypically viewed as only for boys. Her brother echoed their father’s example, always welcoming her participation. “Having a strong girl isn’t just about having a strong mother. It’s about having men in their lives who love them and respect them,” she said.
Michelle was set on attending Princeton University and achieved that goal, disregarding a high school counselor’s advice that she was not “Princeton material.” She took a moment to address the topic of affirmative action and the stigma attached to it. “Somehow even if you do get in, somebody’s telling you that you only got in because you’re black. They set a bar, you reach the bar, [and] they just raise it a little higher,” she remarked.
Another major topic was miscarriage and fertility struggles, issues that the Obamas struggled with during their marriage. Michelle stressed the need for women to help educate each other about those potential difficulties. In her view, those struggles and feelings aren’t expressed as often as they should. “When things happen that are natural, that doesn’t make you feel like you’re a failure, which is what miscarriage often feels like to a woman. [It] feels like I can’t do the most fundamental thing that I’m supposed to do as a woman and somehow that’s a blotch on me,” she explained.
When the Obamas made it to the White House, Michelle strove to keep some sense of normalcy to their life and with their daughters Malia and Sasha. One way that she and Barack achieved this was to agree to a rule that dinner would be served promptly at 6:30 in the evenings.
As she detailed, “It was also important for the girls to know that they were the priority … I didn’t want my kids to grow up feeling, especially as girls, that life meant waiting for the man of the house before life could continue.”
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) November 18, 2018
With the White House a mere 10 minutes away from the Capital One Arena, the current administration probably wasn’t far from the minds of the people in the audience. Michelle avoided directly mentioning the President by name, but her comments welcomed a comparison of her husband’s tenure with Trump’s.
Often times going low means you’re acting from a place of ego. You’re really just satisfying your immediate need to lash out and rarely does that connect to a solution … We’re now living in an example of [what] you’ve seen going high and you’ve seen going low. The question that we have ask ourselves, which feels better? What world do we want to live in?
Near the end of the talk, Barack Obama emerged with flowers in hand for Michelle. Barack’s special appearance at this arena was strictly due to “hometown advantage” since the Obamas still reside in Washington, D.C. It’s not likely that he will be making remarks at her other book talks. Once the applause settled down, Jarrett asked him about his first meeting with Michelle. He smiled and marvelled at how “one of a kind” his future wife was.
I hadn’t met somebody who was that strong and that honest, somebody who I just felt was a rock, somebody who I knew at that point I would always be able to count on … Somebody who if she was the mother of my children, I knew my children would turn out to be extraordinary.
Michelle Obama’s book tour continues through December 19 in the United States. The international leg of the tour is limited at the moment, with stops only in London and Paris. Given how the events have been selling out, we could see more international events on the calendar after the new year.