Michelle Obama Recalls Experiencing Racism When She Was First Lady

Michelle Obama is opening up about her experiences with racism. On the latest episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, the 56-year-old former first lady and her longtime friends, Kelly Dibble, Denielle Pemberton-Heard, Sharon Malone, talked about facing racism in their lives.

“What the white community doesn’t understand about being a person of color in this nation is that there are daily slights,” Obama said. “In our workplaces, where people talk over you, or people don’t even see you.”

Obama went on to describe one such slight that occurred with Pemberton-Heard when she was first lady, a role she held from 2009 to 2017 when her husband, Barack Obama, was president.

“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 said of the quick trip with her daughters, Malia and Sasha, who are now 22 and 19, respectively. “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.”

“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,” she continued. “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?'”

According to Obama, the woman in question “didn’t apologize” and “never looked me in my eye.”

“She didn’t know it was me,” she 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.”

Obama noted that she could tell “a number of stories like that” when, despite her fame across the world, she’s been treated as 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. “… 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.”

One thing that helped Obama through the difficult times were her friends, specifically her Black female friends.

“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 said that her Black female friends have become even more important now, amid the current Black Lives Matter movement.

“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,'” she said.

Watch the video below for more on Obama.

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