Almost a year ago I read Becoming, by Michelle Obama, and shared my reaction to the book through this post. My response was in regard to the evolution of her view of what success really means and how it influenced my perception of success. Watching Becoming on Netflix, I took away an arguably more important message.
One of the most impactful scenes for me was when Michelle Obama visited a school in Chicago and in one of the focus groups a student asked her how she persevered through invisibility. Obama responded by explaining that despite what was going on in the world, her parents always made her feel visible. She went on to explain that people of color, specifically black women, cannot wait for time to pass to start owning their visibility.
Growing up I felt almost entirely too visible. My parents instilled from an early age to be cautious when using the internet, that if I didn't want it on the front page of a newspaper (maybe a little outdated) I shouldn't post it. As the oldest child, I felt I was held to higher expectations and that everyone somehow knew how I was performing in school, my extracurricular involvement, my college search process, and so on. Colleagues from both of my parent's professions were introduced to me from a young age and have been able to discuss career paths with me as I navigate my undergraduate years. I have always felt like I needed to be perfect because everyone would know if I fell short. Watching the girl ask Obama how to be seen was an extremely eye-opening moment for me. I had to pause the film and take a moment to reflect.
I'm fortunate to have grown up in a household that has always recognized white privilege, though the idea that many girls my own age feel invisible was heartbreaking. Understanding societal problems at a high level is easy because you can distance yourself from the issue when it does not affect you. This runs true with systematic racism, workplace discrimination, and so forth. Seeing someone that was a senior in high school - a time that I felt invincible - want nothing more than to have their voice heard almost brought me to tears. While I have felt at times that my voice wasn't being heard, it was not because others did not value my voice, it was because I did not share it. This girl legitimately did not feel valued by society and that is something I have never and will never face.The duty falls on everyone to show young minds that despite their background, they provide value. As Obama said, the world will not change overnight and that is why it is so essential to feel visibility from within. It is frustrating to know that so many people are automatically assumed to have value based on their race, gender, background, or whatever it may be and that the responsibility to find it within oneself is only on some.That being said, Michelle Obama holds high expectations for young people and does so with pride. Her message holds true for everyone - that it is important to be confident in who you are so that you don't have to rely on the validation of others. Becoming has increased my understanding of my privilege and I hope it inspires others in my position to do the same.