As a wife, mother and first lady, she didn’t just break the mold. She is the mold.
t the time of this writing, “I Miss Barack Obama” is one of Twitter’s top trending topics; a response to a viral piece from David Brooks of the New York Times, where he opines on the president’s many virtues (most notably, the fact that President Obama is, above all else, a good and decent person). I share Brooks’ sentiment, for reasons he expressed (Obama’s sense of integrity and steadfast belief in his values) and for reasons I would not expect Brooks, a white man, to have much of a personal connection to.
There is just no way to accurately assess the psychic benefit of having the president of the United States be a black man. Perhaps you can be critical of his politics, his personality and his policies—he is not infallible, so you should be—but the impact of his terms in office stretches beyond that, and it is not quantifiable. How can you possibly measure how much it means for tens of millions of black Americans to watch the State of the Union and see someone who could very easily be an uncle or a cousin or a brother or a barber? What type of poll or survey or study could possibly assign a number to rate that spiritual and psychological boost?
Even now, eight years after he was elected, it still feels surreal. Kafkaesque, even, because thissurreality has come with a latent sense of doom. A fear that something might happen to him. To wit, my most resonant memory of his presidency came the night he was first elected. The unbridled joy I felt while watching him give his acceptance speech was matched—and, possibly, surpassed—by the dread that someone was going to do something to him. And I will miss the feeling of this mirth congealed with unease. Because even though this unease isn’t a positive feeling, it’s a feeling that stems from a positive feeling. An unfortunate by-product of fathomless and genuine care. And I will miss having a president whose very existence conjures and cultivates that.
Also, I will miss his wife.
Referring to something as “everything” has recently emerged as a way to encapsulate an entity’s degree of awesome. The Beyoncé concert wasn’t just “amazing.” It was “everything.” General Tso’s shrimp wasn’t just “delicious.” It was “everything.” The piece from your favorite writer about that funny thing that happened wasn’t just “entertaining.” It was “everything.”
Usually, this everything status is inherently hyperbolic, a consciously exaggerated way of expressing a sincere affinity. Yet, in Michelle Obama’s case, she has literally been everything. Amazing wife and mother. Role model. Fashion icon. Fitness benchmark. Gracious global ambassador. Slayer in chief. So much of everything that the best people to compare her to—namely, Clair Huxtable and Elastigirl from The Incredibles, etc.—don’t even exist. She hasn’t just broken the mold. She is the mold. The prototype. The archetype that all others, from henceforth, will be compared to.
Also, the significance of Barack Obama being married to her cannot be minimized. She was, and remains, the president’s most vital co-sign. Despite his blackness bona fides, his unique background and relative anonymity did create some skepticism among certain pockets of black people. Not a pervasive cynicism as much as a curiousness; a delayed, “wait and see” entrustment. But once we (collectively) learned that he was married to a bad-ass sista from Chicago, we (collectively) were reassured. If someone like her loved this dude enough to accept his hand in marriage and bear his children—and, just as importantly, if he had the wherewithal (and the game) to convince someone like her to marry him—we were in good hands.
I will miss having this beautiful and unapologetically black woman in the White House. In honor of her last year as first lady, here are 10 of her best and blackest moments.
1. Launching the Let’s Move! Initiative
President Obama has been criticized by both the type of white person searching for reasons to be critical of him and the type of black person searching for reasons to be critical of him for not doing anything specifically to benefit black people. This criticism has always been, for lack of a better term, dumb as hell, since anyone with a working brain stem and Wi-Fi connection can easily (easily!!!) find dozens of initiatives and policy measures very obviously intended to benefit people of color. It’s also no accident that the first lady’s most comprehensive initiative is a program to get America healthier. We (black people) disproportionately suffer from obesity and malnutrition, and the very first thing Michelle Obama did in office was devise a way to help change that.
2. Rocking, Like, a Thousand Different Hairstyles
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES; CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES; KRIS CONNOR/GETTY IMAGES
Each and every one of her stylistic changes is a subtle shoutout to every black woman who had her hair done a certain way on Friday, went to the salon to get something different on Saturday, went back to work on Monday and still had her white co-workers staring at her like she was a completely different person from a completely different planet on Tuesday.
3. The “Terrorist Fist Bump”
4. Becoming BFFs With Beyoncé
How you feel in particular about Beyoncé doesn’t matter. (No, really. It doesn’t matter at all. I know some of you are going to read this and be compelled to leave a comment about how much you abhor her. But trust me. No one will read it.) What matters here is that, when entering office, the first lady did what 96.993 percent of black people would do if they had a similar status: Get your favorite artist on speed dial. And then share slaying tips and best practices.
5. Agreeing to See Do the Right Thing on Her First Date With Barack
Although they’re the cliché, perfunctory, first-date choice, movies are usually actually the worstplace to take a new date. First dates are supposed to be spent getting to know each other, and spending two hours staring at a screen not talking to each other is the antithesis of that process.
Unless, of course, you’re the future president and the future first lady, and it’s a movie so politically and racially charged that the post-date dinner convo is guaranteed to determine whether the prospective new boo will ever reach “extra toothbrush at the crib” status.
6. The “Go to College” Music Video
Proving true the adage that every black person, regardless of station or circumstance, secretly wants to be a rapper.
7. Her First-Ballot Entry in the Eye Roll Hall of Fame
At 2013’s Inauguration Day luncheon, John Boehner had the misfortune of telling a joke that Michelle Obama did not appreciate. Naturally, she let this lack of appreciation be known with the same head shake and eye roll doled out when black grandmothers are made aware of something remarkably stupid done by grandchildren. This was basically the “You left the fridge door open for five minutes” face.
Of course, this was likely done in jest. But it doesn’t hurt to imagine an even-more-red-than-usual John Boehner seeing that, looking down in shame and whispering “Yes, ma’am” while he played with his thumbs.
8. Taking a Chance on a Guy Who Made Less Money Than She Did
Of course, the story of how Michelle “took a chance” on Barack has been regarded by certain people as a justification for why sistas with degrees and kitchens with updated appliances need to give more love to brothas in their aunties’ basements. Never mind the fact that Barack was already considered a law prodigy before they even met. And never mind the fact that he actually pursued and courted her. Michelle gave him a chance, so all you prospective Michelles out there are missing out on Baracks and need to start giving chances to brothas without bank cards.
9. Hosting an African Dance Class at the White House
Can you imagine any other first lady inviting Debbie Allen, Virginia Johnson, Fatima Robinson and Emerita Judith Jamison to the White House to teach a bunch of little girls how to dance? Can you imagine Melania Trump making that phone call? (S–t, can you even imagine Melania Trump makinga phone call?)
10. Raising Two Little Black Girls Into Amazing Black Teens
Perhaps the most vital and historically resonant aspect of Michelle Obama’s stint at the White House is the most obvious one. She is a wife and a mother. And the Obama family’s visibility and prominence has done more to normalize and celebrate the black family than any policy measure or bill her husband could have crafted. At the center of all this is Malia and Sasha—two girls who have been and will continue to be exemplary role models for children and young adults, black girls particularly.
Let me put it this way: I have a 9-year-old niece. The Obamas in the White House are literally all she has known her entire life. This experience, still surreal for many of us, is completely normal to her. And that this normalcy includes these two amazing young women is because of their role model, their mom.