illustrated portrait of African American first lady Michelle Obama


by Michelle Obama

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Student Question

In Becoming, how does Michelle Obama demonstrate her understanding of social change?

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In Becoming, Michelle Obama demonstrates how the world and people's lives both change over time in some ways and remain the same in others, and she also reveals how she grows in her ideas about social structures as she encounters new situations. Let's look at this in more detail.

We will begin by thinking about how Michelle experienced change over the years. You might focus especially on her law career, which was unsatisfying to her, and how she decided to pursue new directions that were more fulfilling. You could also mention how having a family changed Michelle and talk about how losing her father and her friend, Suzanne, impacted her. These are all important changes that helped Michelle Obama grow as a person and reach out in new directions.

As for how things remain the same, you could think about her commitment to the Democratic party that she developed in childhood and retained through adulthood. You might also discuss Michelle's strong commitment to her family and her continual efforts at social change within her local and national community during her years as First Lady.

Finally, you are asked to think about Michelle Obama's understanding of social structures. She actually received something of a surprise by the results of her husband's first presidential campaign, for she talks about how she did not think he had much of a chance because of his race. Despite her preconceptions, he won. This expanded Michelle's ideas about the structure of society and social change. As First Lady, she had the chance to work on several initiatives that gave her an expanded role in bringing about social change, and this, too, affected her perspective. You should discuss some of those, too.

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In chapters six and seven of her book Becoming, what are four ways Michelle Obama's understanding of the structure of social change developed as she encountered new situations from the time she entered Princeton University to the time she graduated?

In chapters six and seven of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, we see Michelle learning more and more about social structures and social change during her years at Princeton. Let’s explore some of the new situations that change her understanding and perspectives.

You might start with Michelle’s encounters with racism on campus. She has known racism before, of course, but think about how experiencing such at Princeton provides her with a different view, especially with regard to her white roommate who moves out.

Think, too, about Michelle’s work at the Third World Center. This opens her eyes to all kinds of new people and new ideas that she has not encountered in quite the same way before. She becomes active in the center and is encouraged by the director to branch out into service to Black children in the after-school program.

You might also explore Michelle’s experience of being one of the few or even the only Black student present in some situations. Think especially in terms of what she says about expectations to assimilate.

Finally, pay attention to Michelle’s growing knowledge about her family’s South Carolina roots and how this changes her understanding of social structures and urges her to work for social change.

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