An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

Dear Michelle — When I first heard your message of change and hope (and love, too), I couldn’t wait for a bona fide woman — sexy, smart, talented, graceful, and powerful — to be the First Lady of the United States. Wanted so desperately to see you there because of the glorious disappointment that was Condolleezza, that woman who wasn’t ours.

But you, Michelle, you are mine and my mother’s and my mother’s mother’s. Like the old grandmother in Maya Angelou’s poem, that I memorized in the fifth grade, who lay face down in the moist dirt muttering, “I shall not be moved,” you staked a claim in the world of a million women long dead. Their spirits witnessed Obama’s arrival on that cool, crisp day in January, but they really came to see you — in all your glory, decked in gold that glittered and sparkled just as much as their dreams.

I was there, too. And I couldn’t wait for your change to manifest in the world. To compare our dreams of transformation in our communities, nation, and around the globe.

I need you to tell me what a Harvard-educated healthcare executive from Chicago’s South Side really thinks about sleeping in the same house as Eleanor Roosevelt once did. Tell me how you stayed focused in school, went corporate, but still kept your eye on the prize. How you reconciled your working class upbringing with the elitism attained through your education, while still remaining a down sista on the block. How you met your Barack, commanded the respect due a brilliant woman, won his hand, and raised two well-adjusted young women with high self esteem that will never compromise their self worth. How you inspired those girls, and your husband, to pursue their boundless potential in a racialized/sexist/classist world.

I want to be like you, Michelle: a black woman in a high profile position whom others can look up to and emulate. And I wonder if, when I get there, they’ll be looking more at my arms and backside than my brains. Whether they’ll be more interested in what I’m wearing than what I’m saying. Whether my power will be marginalized by my appearance and I will find myself in a cage on display for universal womanhood. I want it all, Michelle–for you and for me. To be all that we are in our infinite complexity, to command respect for our contributions, and to not be moved by other people’s expectations of being mothered, coddled, and aroused by black female sexuality. I dream for you that world, but I also dream it for me.

And for all women who one day hope to be free.

Respectfully,

Iquo B. Essien