How to Read Michelle Obama

Lauret, Maria (2011) How to Read Michelle Obama. Patterns of Prejudice, 45 (1-2). pp. 94-117. ISSN 0031-322X

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Abstract

Michelle Obamas role as the first African American First Lady is more than merely symbolic. Her self-representation as a professional woman, mother, and spouse is directed towards a wider representativeness that is new in American political discourse. As a descendant of slaves and slave owners whose American ancestry can be traced back to the 1850s, she can lay claim to an African American legacy that the President lacks. As a result, some of her more controversial statements during the presidential campaign about the black family, class mobility, and national pride need to be read in the context of an African American literature and historiography that challenges the American creed of equality, liberty, and unconditional love of ones country. Michelle Obamas family history, her Princeton Bachelors thesis, and her own words in interviews are analysed here in the discursive context of Ellisons Invisible Man, Morrisons Beloved, Richard Powerss The Time of Our Singing, and Harriet Jacobss Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, as well as the historiography of the Civil Rights Movement. Such a reading reveals how Mrs. Obamas background weaves the legacy of slavery into the American fabric, and shows that a redemptive construction of American history, in which the victory of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and the Obama Presidency, are taken as fulfilment of the American creed (and of Martin Luther Kings dream) must be refused, if a new national self-definition with African America at its heart is to take its place. Keywords Michelle Obama; burden of representation; American creed; black family; African American middle class; legacy of slavery.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Depositing User: Maria Lauret
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:35
Last Modified: 10 Jul 2012 11:02
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/26758
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