On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. His wife, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, as “the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House. […] was ‘other’ by default” (Obama 2018:284). She was in fact first “dismissed on by some early critics as an angry black woman unsuited for the tradition-bound role of first lady” (Davies 2016). Nonetheless, Michelle Obama, a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer, soon served as a role model for women, minorities and young generations and ranked among most influential people in the world (Barr 2019). She cultivated an unpretentious image of an independent-minded woman who always spoke her mind, and thanks to ‘the power of her voice’ she has played a key role in advocating mainly for both women’s and black people’s (self)awareness, education, health, and empowerment, since racial discrimination and gender were the issues which most sharply marked her own life. Hence, Michelle Obama, always weaving together the personal and the political, regularly addressed themes like slavery and the (American) value of inclusion and freedom(s) in all her speeches and writings. In June 2016, for instance, in a commencement speech delivered at the Santa Fe Indian School, she introduced herself in the context of slavery, outlining her genealogy. “My great-great grandfather,” she said, “was another man’s property, my great-grandfather was another man’s servant.” A month later, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, while highlighting the importance of having the right candidate (namely a woman, Hillary Clinton) to serve as a role model for children, she touched again on the impact of slavery. Marvelling at the image of a black family in the White House, she celebrated the advances made by black people in the U.S and honoured “the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude[…], but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” By drawing on van dijk's analysis of racist discourse, my study aims at investigating qualitative examples of Michelle’s voice – particularly as lexicalised in her autobiographical memoir Becoming published in November 2018 – in order to show how it can be revealing, not only of her individual struggle with reconciling her personal (career) ambition with her gender and racial background, but, more importantly, of a though-provoking vision about America’s racial divide and prejudices. The analysis of Michelle’s narratives can in fact shed light to the socio-historical changes and contradictions of a country where, on the one hand, until recently white had been the only possible word to match with elite and with the official residence and workplace of a US President, but which, on the other hand, is still torn apart by violent racially charged events and major protests which in the last few years have been ongoing nationwide against racism towards black people.

Meccanismi di discriminazione di razza e di genere nelle 'narrazioni' di Michelle Obama

Flavia Cavaliere
2022

Abstract

On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States. His wife, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, as “the only African American First Lady to set foot in the White House. […] was ‘other’ by default” (Obama 2018:284). She was in fact first “dismissed on by some early critics as an angry black woman unsuited for the tradition-bound role of first lady” (Davies 2016). Nonetheless, Michelle Obama, a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer, soon served as a role model for women, minorities and young generations and ranked among most influential people in the world (Barr 2019). She cultivated an unpretentious image of an independent-minded woman who always spoke her mind, and thanks to ‘the power of her voice’ she has played a key role in advocating mainly for both women’s and black people’s (self)awareness, education, health, and empowerment, since racial discrimination and gender were the issues which most sharply marked her own life. Hence, Michelle Obama, always weaving together the personal and the political, regularly addressed themes like slavery and the (American) value of inclusion and freedom(s) in all her speeches and writings. In June 2016, for instance, in a commencement speech delivered at the Santa Fe Indian School, she introduced herself in the context of slavery, outlining her genealogy. “My great-great grandfather,” she said, “was another man’s property, my great-grandfather was another man’s servant.” A month later, at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, while highlighting the importance of having the right candidate (namely a woman, Hillary Clinton) to serve as a role model for children, she touched again on the impact of slavery. Marvelling at the image of a black family in the White House, she celebrated the advances made by black people in the U.S and honoured “the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude[…], but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” By drawing on van dijk's analysis of racist discourse, my study aims at investigating qualitative examples of Michelle’s voice – particularly as lexicalised in her autobiographical memoir Becoming published in November 2018 – in order to show how it can be revealing, not only of her individual struggle with reconciling her personal (career) ambition with her gender and racial background, but, more importantly, of a though-provoking vision about America’s racial divide and prejudices. The analysis of Michelle’s narratives can in fact shed light to the socio-historical changes and contradictions of a country where, on the one hand, until recently white had been the only possible word to match with elite and with the official residence and workplace of a US President, but which, on the other hand, is still torn apart by violent racially charged events and major protests which in the last few years have been ongoing nationwide against racism towards black people.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11588/899832
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