In a vulnerable interview on her podcast, former FLOTUS Michelle Obama opens up about racism
Need another painful reminder of just how insidious racism is in America? Well, let’s just say you can’t escape it — even when you’re married to the person occupying the highest political office in the country. In a telling new discussion for the fifth episode of her eponymous podcast, Michelle Obama described several instances of prejudice she personally suffered during her time as First Lady of the United States.
“Walking the dogs on the canal, people would come up and pet my dogs but would not look me in the eye,” she shared, pointing out that they didn’t even make enough eye contact to recognize her. “They don’t know it’s me.”
While people might pretend that’s not a problem, Obama says it’s emblematic of problematic rhetoric. “What white folks don’t understand it’s, like, that is so telling of how white America views people who are not like them. You know, we don’t exist. And when we do exist, we exist as a threat. And that? That’s exhausting,” she lamented.
Another time, after taking daughters Malia and Sasha Obama to a soccer game, she decided to stop and get ice cream. Obama had asked the Secret Service to stand down so that they could be quote-unquote normal. They walked into Häagen-Dazs to find a line. Okay, cool, no problem — until there was.
“When I am just a Black woman, I notice that white people don’t even see me. They’re not even looking at me,” Obama began. “So, I’m standing there with two little Black girls, another Black female adult, they’re in soccer uniforms, and a woman cuts right in front of us to order — like she didn’t even see us.”
She continued, recounting how the girl behind the counter was about to take the line-cutter’s order before Obama interjected. “I stepped up and was like, ‘Excuse me? You don’t see us four people standing right here? You just jump in line?’ She didn’t apologize. She never looked me in my eye. She didn’t know it was me,” the former First Lady said. “All she saw was a Black person or a group of Black people. Or maybe she didn’t even see that because we were that invisible.”
The conversation evolved organically as Obama sat down with three of her closest friends, Denielle Pemberton-Heard, Dr. Sharon Malone, and Kelly Dibble. As the former FLOTUS explained, her Black female friends proved invaluable in helping her navigate life as the president’s wife. “We can talk about the important stuff: what’s going on in the world, in our families, whatever we’re thinking about, really. We’re just there for each other when it counts — for a laugh, for a hug, for whatever we need,” she explained.
And as it turned out, they’ve needed each other a lot, especially over the last few years. In fact, they recorded the podcast shortly after the murder of George Floyd. “All of those feelings — grief, anger, outrage — were at top of mind,” Obama said, adding, “There’s a level of pain, and frustration, you know, just fatigue with being Black in America.”
You can listen to the full episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast here.