Michelle Obama Describes Racism She Faced As First Lady
Although she was First Lady, Michelle Obama was not spared being subject to racism and she is some of what she experienced during her time in the White House.
During a discussion with friends Denielle Pemberton-Heard, Dr. Sharon Malone and Kelly Dibble on the latest episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, said she experienced racism during a trip to get ice cream.
The recollection was prompted by the four friends speaking about the confrontation between Black bird watcher Christian Cooper and the woman who threatened to call police on him when he asked her to leash her dog in New York City’s Central Park in May.
“That incident in Central Park, which infuriated all of us, as we watched it, it was not unfamiliar,” Obama said. “This is what the white community doesn’t understand about being a person of color in this nation, is that there are daily slights. In our workplaces, where people talk over you, or people don’t even see you.”
She then shared the story of her going with Pemberton-Heard and her daughters, Sasha and Malia, to get ice cream at a Haagen-Dazs during her husband Barack Obama’s presidency.
“We had just finished taking the girls to a soccer game,” Obama said. “We were stopping to get ice cream, and I had told the Secret Service to stand back because we were trying to be normal, trying to go in.”
She continued: “There was a line, and once again, when I’m just a Black woman, I notice that white people don’t even see me. They’re not even looking at me. So I’m standing there with two little Black girls, another Black female adult, they’re in soccer uniforms, and a white woman cuts right in front of us to order. Like she didn’t even see us.”
Obama says that the employee at the counter almost took the woman’s order before she spoke up.
“So I stepped up, and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I was like, ‘You don’t see us four people standing right here, you just jumped in line?'” Obama said. “She didn’t apologize, she never looked me in my eye, she didn’t know it was me. 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.
“I can tell you a number of stories like that when I’ve been completely incognito, during the eight years in the White House, walking the dogs on the canal, people will come up and pet my dogs but will not look me in the eye,” she continued. “They don’t know it’s me.”
Obama then described how hurtful the lack of acknowledgement can be.
“What white folks don’t understand, it’s like that is so telling of how white America views people who are not like them,” she said. “You know, we don’t exist. And when we do exist, we exist as a threat. And that, that’s exhausting.”
Obama also stressed how having Black women friends helps her mental wellbeing.
“There’s a certain relief that comes when you don’t have to walk into your friend group and explain yourself,” she said. “My group of female friends aren’t calling me to say, ‘What can I do?’ You guys are calling me to say, ‘How you doin’ girl?’ You know, ‘let’s talk.'”