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Book cover: Research in Race and Ethnic Relations

Research in Race and Ethnic Relations

ISSN: 0195-7449
Series editor(s): Dr Donald Cunnigen and Dr Marino A Bruce

Subject Area: Sociology and Public Policy

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Mom-in-chief: Community othermothering and Michelle Obama, the first lady of the people's house

Document Information:
Title:Mom-in-chief: Community othermothering and Michelle Obama, the first lady of the people's house
Author(s):Deborah K. King
Volume:16 Editor(s): Donald Cunnigen, Marino A. Bruce ISBN: 978-0-85724-167-2 eISBN: 978-0-85724-168-9
Citation:Deborah K. King (2010), Mom-in-chief: Community othermothering and Michelle Obama, the first lady of the people's house, in Donald Cunnigen, Marino A. Bruce (ed.) Race in the Age of Obama (Research in Race and Ethnic Relations, Volume 16), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.77-123
DOI:10.1108/S0195-7449(2010)0000016007 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article type:Chapter Item

As the First Lady, Michelle Obama stated that she had a number of priorities but that the first year would be mainly about supporting her two girls in their transitions to their new life in the White House. Her choice to be mom-in-chief drew unusually intense and rather puzzling, scrutiny. The chapter briefly discusses the range of reactions along the political spectrum as well as African-American feminists’ analyses of the stereotypes of Black women underlying those reactions. This analysis engages the debates from a different perspective. First, the chapter addresses the under-theorizing of the racialized gender norms embedded in the symbolism of the White House and the role of First Lady. It challenges the presumption of traditional notions of true womanhood and the incorrect conclusion that mothering would preclude public engagement.

Second and most importantly, this chapter argues that there are fundamental misunderstandings of what mothering meant for Michelle Obama as African-American woman. Cultural traditions and socio-historical conditions have led Black women, both relatives and non-kin, to form mothering relationships with others’ children and to appreciate the interdependence of “nurturing” one's own children, other children, and entire communities. Those practitioners whose nurturing activities encompassed commitment and contributions to the collectivity were referred to as community othermothering. Using primary sources, this chapter examines in detail Michelle Obama's socialization for and her practice of community othermothering in her role as First Lady. Attention is focused on her transformation of White House events by extending hospitality to more within Washington, DC, and the nation, plus broadening young people's exposure to inspiration, opportunities, and support for setting and accomplishing their dreams. Similarly, the concept of community othermothering is also used to explain Michelle Obama’s reinterpretation of the traditional First Lady's special project into the ambitious “Let's Move” initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation. The othermothering values and endeavors have helped establish the White House as “the People's House.”

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