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White House, Black Mother: Michelle Obama and the Politics of Motherhood as First Lady

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2019

Gloria Y. A. Ayee
Harvard University
Jessica D. Johnson Carew
Elon University
Taneisha N. Means
Vassar College
Alicia M. Reyes-Barriéntez
Texas A&M University-San Antonio
Nura A. Sediqe
Duke University


In 2008, for the first time in the history of this country, a black woman became First Lady of the United States. During Barack Obama's presidency, Michelle Obama was ever present in the public eye for her advocacy on issues related to health, military families, education, and for promoting the interests of women and girls. This article contributes to ongoing scholarly discourse, as well as extensive media coverage and analysis, regarding Obama's role as wife and first lady by critically examining how the particular model of motherhood she embraced and exhibited, a model firmly rooted in the black American community, was designed to challenge negative stereotypes of black women, maternity, and families. We address the following questions in this work: How did Obama's identity as a black woman influence the policies she championed as first lady? Does Obama's mothering relate to stereotypes of black mothers and help (re)define black motherhood, and if so, how? What does it mean to be a black mater gentis or mother of the nation? Drawing on her speeches and policy initiatives, we reveal how Michelle Obama defied dominant and oppressive stereotypes of black women and mothers while simultaneously (re)defining black womanhood and motherhood for the nation.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2019 

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All authors contributed equally to this article.


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