Michelle Obama is continuing to reflect on her time as First Lady, especially in a current moment when racial justice has reached an international spotlight. Ms. Obama particularly recounted her experience with racism, both inside and outside of the White House.
The “Becoming” author and public speaker gave details on the latest episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast. On the episode, she chatted with her longtime friends — Kelly Dibble, Denielle Pemberton-Heard, and Dr. Sharon Malone — about the importance of their friendships.
“That incident in Central Park, which infuriated all of us, as we watched it, it was not unfamiliar,” Obama explained. “I mean, 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.”
Obama went on to say that during her eight years as First Lady during Barack Obama‘s presidency, she had “a number of stories” of white people treating her like she was invisible. “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. They don’t know it’s me,” she said, later adding, “That is so telling of how white America views people who are not like them, like we don’t exist. And when we do exist, we exist as a threat. And that’s exhausting.”
Obama described another incident that involved herself and her two kids Malia, now 22 years old, and Sasha, now 19. Pemberton-Heard was also present. “We had just finished taking the girls to a soccer game. 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,” Obama recalled. “There was a line, and… when I’m just a Black woman, I notice that white people don’t even see me. They’re not even looking at me.”
She continued, “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. The girl behind the counter almost took her order. And I had to stand up ’cause I know Denielle was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna cause a scene with Michelle Obama.’ So I stepped up and I said, ‘Excuse me? You don’t see us four people standing right here? You just jumped in line?'”
Obama said the woman didn’t even apologize and “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,” Obama added.
Obama stressed the importance of having Black women as friends for support. “My girlfriend group, while it is diverse, it has been so important for me to have Black women in my crew,” she said. “There’s just a certain relief that comes when you don’t have to walk into your friend group and explain yourself.”
Obama added, “My group of female friends aren’t calling me to say, ‘What can I do?’ They’re calling me to say, ‘How you doin’ girl? Let’s talk.'”