2008. What a year. What a time to have witnessed. The world was captivated by the newly elected President of The United States. A Black man. The first ever in a country that was built on the backs of his enslaved ancestors, residing in a house built by slaves. We couldn’t quite comprehend the meaning of that moment, eight years on, it remains a moment in time that changed the course of history. Not just for America, but for the world. For every black man, woman, and child living in a world that has made us feel like the other, that moment will live and out live us as we pass the story from generation to generation. What was even more pertinent for me as a black woman, even more exciting, even more uplifting was the new First Lady, Michelle Obama. There is something about Michelle, it was obvious then, it is even more obvious now, and will forever remain so because when history remembers Michelle, it will do so with honour. Historians will write about her awe-inspiring grace, her finesse, her intelligence. Her husband might have just become the first Black leader of the free world but Michelle Obama was the catch.
I remember November 4, 2008 like it was yesterday, I stayed up all night watching the US presidential election unfold on TV in the UK. Watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN call the votes in, East Coast, then West Coast. I was high on coffee and redbull, due to start my shift at work in a matter of hours, but nothing could stop me from being a part of history in whatever way I could. When it was formally announced that Barack Hussein Obama II was to become the 44th President of the United States, the 1st black man to do so, and when he took to the stage to introduce his wife as the first lady, I was overcome with emotion as the world cheered. 4am in London and my house was filled with friends and family who wanted to witness this moment together. You see, Michelle Obama is the most important woman in the world. Second only to your mother. In 2008 I was old enough to know the meaning of that moment when Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama was introduced as the First Lady Of The United States of America. Say those words again and again. Before then, we were relegated to other, the media was largely white washed, the norm was white, as black people we were a specialist class of people, other. In forms, in stories, in magazines, in books etc. the default was white. When Michelle Obama came along she inserted us into the conversation so they couldn’t ignore her, and by extension, us. Her presence challenged the mainstream status quo, confronting America with its history and forcing them to deal with the discomforts of their truths. Michelle Obama, Ivy League educated, successful attorney at law prior to becoming first lady, a woman comfortable in her skin, who made me even more comfortable in my skin, unapologetic about who she is as a black woman in a world that often disregarded us, where she is from, and where she was headed. Her intelligence is inspiring, her achievements before, in the White House, and without question afterwards will be even more inspiring. She often challenges us to be the best version of ourselves, Michelle Obama is that woman.
When she walks into a room we pay attention, when she speaks we listen because her words speak to the hearts of many woman around the world. At the DNC last week she drew many parallels about our struggles as black people in a world that often tries to deflate and sell us on doubt. She likened the struggles of Black Lives Matter movement to those of police officers killed in the line of duty. She shunned Donald Trump entirely, yet reduced his existence to nothing more than 140 characters. It was a masterclass in shade. Michelle Obama is everything we hope to be, and as she leaves the White House, we are left with mixed feelings of happiness and wonder- Happy that the unexpected, what we dared not hope for, has happened in our lifetime and we were here to see it all unfold, but then we cannot help but wonder when the next black woman will be first lady again.
Michelle Obama didn’t just walk through the door, she held up the doorways for us to walk through. Us- Black women who are often too scared to dream, whose many possibilities have been stumbled by the impossible, whose hopes falter at the mere thought of the obstacles the world has put ahead of us just for being black and women. She flipped the script and has rewritten those words on the wall, with power, with purpose, and with meaning. When she addresses a nation whose history is tarnished by slavery, commanding attention of people of all colours the world over, as a Black woman, aware of the history of the ground she stands on, one upon which slaves bled as they built, that has to be the most powerful thing to witness. And for that at least, we will never forget the grace of Michelle LaVaughn Obama