In the face of discrimination, exacerbated by the intersectional space of race and gender which her body occupies, Michelle Obama was (and continues to be) faced with the tasks of assuaging the larger racialized fears that a Black body often represents in the American imagination, dismantling the damaging stereotypes about Black women, and assuming an identity that is well-received by the American voting public.At the same time, she must also embrace the gendered labour required of a First Lady -- she must be a wife and mother who is patriotic, gracious, well-spoken, politically fluent and inoffensive in carriage and manner.I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just seven and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns.
Though presidential and First Lady rhetoric have largely been studied in isolation from one another, Obama’s presence in the 2008 election reveals that, in practice, the speech of the First Lady functions as presidential rhetoric.
As prospective First Ladies have become increasingly more educated, accomplished and engaged in the public sphere over the course of American history, they have been dispatched to speak to potential voters on their husbands’ behalf(Mac Manus & Quecan).
The first two sections of this essay will look at the rhetorical function, appeal and significance of Obama’s carefully composed biographical narratives in supporting her husband’s bid for presidency.
I also look specifically at different speeches she gave to diverse audiences in order to better understand how she invoked or excluded race and gender identity.
The second part of this paper will discuss the inherent difficulty of Obama’s performance and construction as a Black First Lady in the context of American racism and sexism.
In this paper, I examine four of Obama’s speeches given during the 2007-2008 campaign season in order to analyze how Obama either employed or excluded race and gender when presenting herself in front of different racial and gendered audiences.
This project does not aim to be a comprehensive summation of Obama’s discourse or her performance on the campaign trail.
Rather, I hope to contribute to the ongoing scholarly conversation that seeks to elucidate the many ways in which her presence and words provide key insights regarding the expectations and demands of First Ladies, wives, mothers, Black women and political spouses in contemporary society.
This study first recognized that the presence of race and gender language would vary depending upon the audience to which Obama delivered her speech.
My use of selected Obama speeches shows her attempts to vary her identification with listeners by adapting her “rhetorical persona”(), and appealing to a shared belief system.