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.”
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For so many of us, our friendships have been absolutely critical in helping us get through our toughest days and celebrate our highest highs. And this week on the #MichelleObamaPodcast, I’m talking to a few of my girlfriends: Sharon Malone, Denielle Pemberton-Heard, and Kelly Dibble. Our conversation is a pretty good window into what I love about these ladies. We can reminisce, laugh at each other’s stories, and most of all, we can talk about what’s going on in the world or in our own lives. And with everything that’s been going on over these past few months, it’s been especially crucial for us as women of color to have friends to lean on—a group we can sort through it all together. But to me, this episode isn’t just about my friendships. It’s about yours. It’s about the old friend from school who’s been a confidante for every crucial moment of your life. It’s about the girls who cheered you on during the good times or gave you a shoulder to lean on when times were tough. It’s about the people who know you and support you like no one else. I hope that after listening to this episode, you’ll reach out to them and let them know how much they mean to you. Click the link in my bio to hear this week’s episode with my girlfriends.
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.”
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Now more than ever, it’s important to have a support system that you can talk to about taking care of your physical and mental health. I hope this week’s episode of The #MichelleObamaPodcast with @smalonemd, gave you a taste of why that’s been so important for me. I hope it inspires you to have some of those hard conversations about your health, too—whether that’s with your doctor, your friends, your partner, or your children. I’d love to hear about the conversations you’ve been having in the comments below. #SelfcareSunday
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.