Early Years and Influences
Born in Chicago on January 17, 1964, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is an attorney who has been married to Barack Hussein Obama since 1992.
In 1985 Miss Robinson received her B.A. in Sociology from Princeton University, where she minored in African American Studies. According to FrontPageMagazine reporter Jacob Laksin, “In a [February 2008] interview with Newsweek, [Michelle] Obama reveals that she got into Princeton … not on the strength of her grades, which she admits were unexceptional, but thanks to her brother Craig, a star athlete and gifted student who preceded her to the school. As a ‘legacy’ candidate and a beneficiary of affirmative action, Michelle Obama was granted an opportunity that others more accomplished were denied.”
During her years at Princeton, Miss Robinson was a board member with a radical campus group known as the Third World Center (TWC), which was established in 1971 to provide “a social, cultural and political environment that reflects the needs and concerns of students of color at the University”; to remedy the fact that “the University’s cultural and social organizations have largely been shaped by students from families nurtured in the Anglo-American and European traditions”; to acknowledge that “it has not always been easy for students from different backgrounds to enter the mainstream of campus life”; and to teach minority students to “become more sensitive to the consequences of a long history of prejudice and discrimination.”
TWC’s constitution and founding documents were steeped in anti-American and anti-white rhetoric. TWC’s constitution stated:
“The term ‘Third World’ implies[,] for us, those nations who have fallen victim to the oppression and exploitation of the world economic order. This includes the peoples of color of the United States, as they too have been victims of a brutal and racist economic structure which exploited and still exploits the labor of such groups as Asians, Blacks, and Chicanos, and invaded and still occupies the homelands of such groups as the Puerto Ricans, American Indians, and native Hawaiian people. We therefore find it necessary to reeducate ourselves to the various forms of exploitation and oppression. We must strive to understand more than just the basics of human rights. We must seek to understand the historical roots and contemporary ramifications of racism if Third World people are to liberate themselves from the economic and social chains they find themselves in.”
A 1976 TWC document titled “Oppression breeds resistance,” stated: “The history of the peoples of the Third World, who have suffered from U.S. Imperialism, and of the oppressed nationalities within the United States—Afro-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Asians, and Native Americans, has been a history of oppression and resistance.” On one occasion in 1973, TWC brought the Puerto Rican Nationalist and Socialist, Manuel Maldonado-Denis to campus as a guest speaker. “I have come from a colonized country, submitted to cultural assimilation and cultural aggression,” he told the students at TWC. He accused the United States of “dominating,” “fleecing” and “exploiting” Puerto Rico, and said “the only solution” to the problem was “the establishment of national liberation and the establishment of socialism.”
In November 1984, during Michelle Robinson’s tenure as a TWC board member, that board maintained that nonwhite students should have the right to bar whites from its meetings on campus and from its meetings with school administrators. Of the 19 elected positions on the organization’s board, two were reserved exclusively for each of the five ethnic groups TWC claimed to represent: Asian, Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Native American.
TWC played a key role in bringing to Princeton’s campus a host of radical speakers, including such notables as Hassan Rahman, the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s deputy observer to the United Nations; David Johnson, affiliated with the terrorist group FMLN; former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, a committed socialist; William Bowen, the architect of Princeton’s racial preference programs; Roberto Vargas, a pro-Sandinista, pro-Che Guevara poet; Miguel Barnet, a pro-Castro writer and ethnographer; Manning Marable, a renowned black Marxist; and a number of ACORN representatives.
At Princeton, Miss Robinson wrote a senior thesis entitled “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community,” (see complete thesis under the Resources column on the left-hand side of this page). Some excerpts from the thesis include the following:
- “Predominately white universities like Princeton are socially and academically designed to cater to the needs of the white students comprising the bulk of their enrollments.”
- “[My Princeton experiences] “will likely lead to my further integration and/or assimilation into a White cultural and social structure that will only allow me to remain on the periphery of society; never becoming a full participant.”
- “I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don’t belong. Regardless of the circumstances under which I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second.”
- “Earlier in my college career, there was no doubt in my mind that as a member of the Black community I was somehow obligated to this community and would utilize all of my present and future resources to benefit this community first and foremost.”
- “In defining the concept of identification or the ability to identify with the black community … I based my definition on the premise that there is a distinctive black culture very different from white culture.”
Radicalism at Harvard Law School
After graduating from Princeton, Miss Robinson went on to attend Harvard Law School, where she was accepted under the aegis of a minority outreach program. As one of her friends would later reflect, Robinson recognized that she had been privileged by affirmative action and was very comfortable with that.
In 1988, during her third and final year at Harvard, Miss Robinson wrote an essay for the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) newsletter, condemning Harvard for its dearth of nonwhite and female law professors, and for not having tried to increase their numbers by hiring new candidates on the basis of skin color and sex rather than their academic credentials:
“The faculty’s decision to distrust and ignore non-traditional qualities in choosing and tenuring law professors merely reinforces racist and sexist stereotypes, which, in turn, serve to legitimize students’ tendencies to distrust certain types of teaching that do not resemble the traditional images.”
Also in the 1988 essay, Miss Robinson derided such books as The Paper Chase and One-L, for promoting the notion that law professors should be “cold, callous, domineering, old, white men who took pleasure in engaging their students in humiliating and often brutal discourse.” She criticized the “traditional model” of law-school instruction, which relied heavily on the Socratic method. She lauded the work of several professors who did not use that method, including such far-leftists as Martha Minow and Charles Ogletree. And she heaped praise upon the concept of critical race theory, which holds that because racism is so deeply ingrained in American institutions, classical liberal ideals such as meritocracy, equal opportunity, and colorblind justice are essentially nothing more than empty slogans.
On May 10, 1988, just a few weeks before Miss Robinson received her Harvard law degree, she and some 50 other BLSA members, carrying signs demanding an “end to racism,” stormed the office of Dean James Vorenberg and occupied it for 24 hours. Specifically, the protesters demanded that Harvard Law School hire (and grant tenure to) 20 female or minority professors over the ensuing four years. They demanded, further, that at least seven of those twenty hires be black — and that at least four of those seven be female. Moreover, they demanded that Harvard grant tenure to Professor Ogletree and a deanship to Professor Derrick Bell, the father of critical race theory.
After law school, Miss Robinson returned to Chicago to work for the law firm Sidley Austin. There she met her future husband, Barack Obama, who was working for the firm as a summer associate. In the summer of 1991 she joined the staff of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
In 1992, as noted earlier, Miss Robinson wed Barack Obama. The marriage ceremony was performed by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), where the Obamas were members of the congregation. (They would remain members of TUCC until 2008.)
In 1993 she became Executive Director for the Chicago office of the organization Public Allies, an entity that sought to cultivate future community activist leaders by arranging apprenticeships for young adults with non-profit organizations.
In 2002, Mrs. Obama began working for the University of Chicago Hospitals (UCH), first as Executive Director for Community Affairs and later, beginning in May 2005, as Vice President for Community and External Affairs. In these roles, she was heavily involved in managing UCH’s “business diversity program.” In early 2005, shortly after her husband had been sworn in as a Democratic U.S. Senator representing Illinois, Mrs. Obama’s annual salary at UCH was suddenly raised from $121,910 to $316,962.
Mrs. Obama also served as a salaried board member of TreeHouse Foods, Inc., a major Wal-Mart supplier with whom she cut ties immediately after her husband made comments critical of Wal-Mart at an AFL-CIO forum in Trenton, New Jersey, on May 14, 2007.
Mrs. Obama was honored by Essence magazine in May 2006 as one of the “World’s Most Inspiring Women”; by Vanity Fair in July 2007 as one of the “World’s Best-Dressed Women”; and by 02138 magazine in September 2007 as #58 in “The Harvard 100” list of that university’s most influential alumni.
Speaking About American Racism and Other Matters During Her Husband’s Presidential Campaign
In a February 2007 appearance with her husband on 60 Minutes, Mrs. Obama implied that America’s allegedly rampant white racism posed a great physical threat to her husband, who had just announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential race. Said Mrs. Obama: “As a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station.” (Mrs. Obama’s implication ignored the fact that the vast majority of violence against black Americans is committed by other blacks. According to the U.S. Justice Department, for instance, between 1976 and 2005, fully 94 percent of black murder victims were killed by black attackers.)
In January 2008, Mrs. Obama was a guest speaker at the University of South Carolina, where she challenged students to embrace diversity. “We don’t like being pushed outside of our comfort zones,” she said. “You know it right here on this campus. You know people sitting at different tables — you all living in different dorms. I was there. You’re not talking to each other, [not] taking advantage [of the fact] that you’re in this diverse community. Because sometimes it’s easier to hold on to your own stereotypes and misconceptions. It makes you feel justified in your own ignorance. That’s America. So the challenge for us is are we ready for change?”
On February 1, 2008, Mrs. Obama said, “I don’t think there is a person of color in this country that doesn’t struggle with what it means to be a part of your race versus what the majority thinks is right.”
While campaigning for her husband on February 18, 2008, Mrs. Obama told an audience in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: “[F]or the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” Later that same day, in Madison, she said, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.”
On another campaign stop that same month, Mrs. Obama told a Zanesville, Ohio audience: “The salaries don’t keep up with the cost of paying off the debt. So you’re in your forties, still paying off your debt at a time when you have to save for your kids. Barack and I were in that position. The only reason we’re not in that position is that Barack wrote two best-selling books.… It was like Jack and his magic beans. But up until a few years ago, we were struggling to figure out how we would save for our kids.”
“We left corporate America,” Mrs. Obama added, “which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do. Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.”
In March 2008 a New Yorker profile quoted Mrs. Obama saying, in a stump speech she had made in South Carolina, that the United States is “just downright mean” as a nation. “We have become a nation of struggling folks who are barely making it every day,” she told churchgoers in that same state. “Folks are just jammed up, and it’s gotten worse over my lifetime.”
At an April 2008 campaign event in North Carolina, Mrs. Obama said: “The truth is most Americans don’t want much. Folks don’t want the whole pie. Most Americans feel blessed to thrive a little bit — but that’s out of reach for them. In order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system, then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”
While campaigning for her husband in May 2008, Mrs. Obama said: “Barack knows that we are going to have to make sacrifices; we are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.”
A Democrat Adviser Describes Mrs. Obama’s Politics
In September 2010, a former advisor to the Obama election campaign and transition team told an interviewer the following about Mrs. Obama: “She is very much the Chicago ideologue. Nancy Pelosi is the far left of the Democrat Party, right? Well, Michelle Obama might be to the left of Nancy Pelosi. She really doesn’t care for how things work in the country and she wants to see it all changed. I can respect that, though I would guess she is far too liberal even for me – and I consider myself a liberal Democrat.”
In prepared remarks that she delivered at a December 13, 2010 news conference announcing the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, Mrs. Obama said: “[M]litary leaders … tell us that … more than one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight. They tell us that childhood obesity isn’t just a public health issue; they tell us that it is not just an economic threat. It is a national security threat as well.”
During the week of June 21-27, 2011, Mrs. Obama and a 21-person entourage went on a so-called “good-will mission” to South Africa and Botswana. The trip’s transportation expenses alone cost U.S. taxpayers at least $424,142. That figure does not include costs for food, lodging, and ground transportation. According to “White House sources” cited by The Daily Mail in August 2011, Mrs. Obama may have spent as much as $10 million on vacations during the preceding year.
In October 2011, Mrs. Obama, while campaigning for her husband’s re-election, said: “Will we be a country that tells folks who’ve done everything right but are struggling to get by, ‘Tough luck, you’re on your own’? Is that who we are?… Will we be a country where opportunity is limited to just the few at the top? Who are we?”
Supporting Code Pink
In the spring of 2012, Kristin Hull, a member of the a pro-Castro, pro-Hugo Chavez, pro-Hamas organization Code Pink, presented Mrs. Obama with a petition that urged peacekeeping rather than war with Iran. Among the document’s 20,000 signatories were such luminaries as Gloria Steinham, Alice Walker, and Eve Ensler. According to Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin, “Ms. Obama thanked Hull for her advocacy and said, ‘Keep up the great work.’ As Hull was walking away after her photo with the First Lady, Michelle Obama grabbed her hand, squeezed it and said, ‘We really need you.'” Another Code Pink co-founder, Jodie Evans, also related this story, via email.
Touting Her “Roots … in Africa”
In a July 30, 2014 speech to a group of 500 Africans who were completing a six-week leadership fellowship in Washington, DC, Mrs. Obama — addressing her listeners as her “brothers” and “sisters” — said: “The roots of my family tree are in Africa. My husband’s father was born and raised in Kenya. Members of our extended family still live there. I have had the pleasure of traveling to Africa many times over the years, including four trips as first lady, and I have brought my mother and my daughters along whenever I can. The blood of Africa runs through my veins, and I care deeply.” Asserting also that many of the educational and financial difficulties faced by women around the world could be traced to traditional “attitudes and beliefs” that existed even in the United States, Obama urged men everywhere to “look into their hearts and souls and ask if they truly view women as their equals.”
Criticizing America Before the United Nations
In a September 2014 address to the United Nations, Mrs. Obama said:
“[A]ll of us -– men and women here in this room and around the world –- we must do some serious self-reflection. We must look inside ourselves and ask, do we truly value women as equals, or do we see them as merely second-class citizens? We must look around at our societies and ask, are we clinging to laws and traditions that serve only to oppress and exclude, or are we working to become more equal, more free?
“These are the very questions we are asking ourselves every day here in the United States. Because while we’ve made tremendous progress in areas like college graduation rates and workforce participation, women here are still woefully underrepresented in our government and in the senior ranks of our corporations. We still struggle with violence against women and harmful cultural norms that tell women how they are expected to look and act. And we still have plenty of work to do here in America to provide a quality education and opportunity for girls and boys, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
At an October 2014, political rally in Philadelphia, Mrs. Obama emphasized how vital it was for “women and minorities and young people” to go to the polls on election day. Republicans, she explained, counted on “folks like us” not to vote.
On November 3, 2014 — the eve of election day — Mrs. Obama was interviewed on TV One, a network with a predominantly black audience and a motto of: “Where Black Life Unfolds.” She told interviewer Roland Martin, host of the program News One Daily: “And that’s my message to voters, this isn’t about Barack, it’s not about person on that ballot — its about you. And for most of the people we are talking to [blacks], a Democratic ticket is the clear ticket that we should be voting on, regardless of who said what or did this — that shouldn’t even come into the equation.” Martin then asked the First Lady: “So can we, if we go out to the polls, can we, say, we have a souls-to-polls on Sunday, can we do soul food after we vote?” Mrs. Obama replied: “Absolutely. I give everyone full permission to eat some fried chicken after they vote. Only after, if you haven’t voted… You make a good point. Because I am, I do talk about health. But I think that a good victory for Democrats on Tuesday, you know, should be rewarded with some fried chicken.”
Remarks About American Racism & Sexism
In a December 2014 People magazine interview where the Obamas talked about dealing with what the magazine described as their “own racist experiences,” Michelle Obama recounted the following incident: “I tell this story — I mean, even as the first lady — during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new…. These incidents in the black community, this is the regular course of life. These are the challenges that we still face as a country.”
But in a television interview with David Letterman two years earlier, Mrs. Obama had given a completely different account of this same incident — emphasizing that she actually tried quite deliberately to conceal her identity:
“I thought I was undercover. I have to tell you something about this trip though. No one knew that was me because a woman actually walked up to me, right? I was in the detergent aisle, and she said — I kid you not — she said, ‘Excuse me, I just have to ask you something,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, cover’s blown.’ She said, ‘Can you reach on that shelf and hand me the detergent?’ I kid you not… And the only thing she said — I reached up, ’cause she was short, and I reached up, pulled it down — she said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to make it look so easy.’ That was my interaction. I felt so good. … She had no idea who I was. I thought, as soon as she walked up — I was with my assistant, and I said, ‘This is it, it’s over. We’re going to have to leave.’ She just needed the detergent.”
In the December 2014 People interview, Mrs. Obama also said that prior to being President, “Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.” She added that on one occasion her husband “was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”
(Notably, at a fancy dinner hosted by the Alfalfa Club back in 2011, Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and adviser of the Obamas, had apparently mistaken four-star general Peter Chiarelli — who was then the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff — for a waiter. As Chiarelli walked by Jarrett’s table, she got his attention and said, “I’d like another glass of wine.” A source subsequently told the Daily Caller: “The guy dutifully went up and got her a glass of wine, and then came back and gave it to her and took a seat at the table. Everyone is in tuxedos and gowns at this thing, but the military people are in full dress uniform.”)
On March 28, 2015, Mrs. Obama spoke at Black girls rock!, an annual awards show that honored several prominent African-American women: Jada Pinkett Smith, Erykah Badu, Cicely Tyson, Ava DuVernay, Nadia Lopez, and Helene Gayle. Addressing an audience that included many young black girls, Obama said: “I am so excited to be here at ‘Black Girls Rock!’ To all the young women here tonight and all across the country, let me say those words again: Black girls rock! We rock! We rock! No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful, you are powerful, you are brilliant, you are funny. Let me tell you, I am so proud of you. My husband, your president, is so proud of you. And we have such big hopes and dreams for every single one of you. Now, I know that’s not always the message that you get from the world. I know there are voices that tell you that you’re not good enough. That you have to look a certain way, act a certain way. That if you speak up, you’re too loud. If you step up to lead, you’re being bossy…. I need you to understand that we are the women who marched from cotton fields into fields of medicine … politics … entertainment. We have found a way to march into a White House.”
In a speech she delivered at the opening of the new $420 million Whitney Museum in New York City on May 7, 2015, Mrs. Obama asserted that too many nonwhite minorities do not feel “welcome” in America’s museums and cultural centers:
“You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, ‘well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.’ In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum. And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself. So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this. And today, as first lady, I know how that feeling limits the horizons of far too many of our young people.”
On May 9, 2015, Mrs. Obama was the commencement speaker at Tuskeegee University, a historically black college in Alabama. She spoke at length about America’s history and legacy of racism. Among her remarks were the following:
- “You will follow heroes like Dr. Boynton Robinson, who survived the billy clubs and the tear gas of Bloody Sunday in Selma. The story of Tuskegee is full of stories like theirs — men and women who came to this city, seized their own futures, and wound up shaping the arc of history for African Americans and all Americans.”
- “And I’d like to begin today by reflecting on … the time when the Army chose Tuskegee as the site of its airfield and flight school for black pilots. Back then, black soldiers faced all kinds of obstacles. There were the so-called scientific studies that said that black men’s brains were smaller than white men’s. Official Army reports stated that black soldiers were ‘childlike,’ ‘shiftless,’ ‘unmoral and untruthful,’ and as one quote stated, ‘if fed, loyal and compliant.’ … [T]hey were presumed to be inferior. During training, they were often assigned to menial tasks like housekeeping or landscaping. Many suffered verbal abuse at the hands of their instructors. When they ventured off base, the white sheriff here in town called them ‘boy’ and ticketed them for the most minor offenses. And when they finally deployed overseas, white soldiers often wouldn’t even return their salutes.”
- “… [Y]ou might also feel a little pressure, you know — pressure to live up to the legacy of those who came before you; pressure to meet the expectations of others. And believe me, I understand that kind of pressure. I’ve experienced a little bit of it myself. You see, graduates, I didn’t start out as the fully-formed First Lady who stands before you today. No, no, I had my share of bumps along the way.”Back when my husband first started campaigning for President, folks had all sorts of questions of me: What kind of First Lady would I be? What kinds of issues would I take on? Would I be more like Laura Bush, or Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Reagan? And the truth is, those same questions would have been posed to any candidate’s spouse. That’s just the way the process works. But, as potentially the first African American First Lady, I was also the focus of another set of questions and speculations; conversations sometimes rooted in the fears and misperceptions of others. Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating? Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?”Then there was the first time I was on a magazine cover — it was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge afro and machine gun. Now, yeah, it was satire, but if I’m really being honest, it knocked me back a bit. It made me wonder, just how are people seeing me.”Or you might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a ‘terrorist fist jab.’ And over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. One said I exhibited ‘a little bit of uppity-ism.’ Another noted that I was one of my husband’s ‘cronies of color.’ Cable news once charmingly referred to me as ‘Obama’s Baby Mama.'”And of course, Barack has endured his fair share of insults and slights. Even today, there are still folks questioning his citizenship. And all of this used to really get to me. Back in those days, I had a lot of sleepless nights, worrying about what people thought of me, wondering if I might be hurting my husband’s chances of winning his election, fearing how my girls would feel if they found out what some people were saying about their mom….”
- “Because here’s the thing — the road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me. Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away. So there will be times … when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are.”The world won’t always see you in those caps and gowns. They won’t know how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed to make it to this day…. Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world. And my husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be. We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives — the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety; the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores; the people at formal events who assumed we were the ‘help’ — and those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country.”And I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day — those nagging worries that you’re going to get stopped or pulled over for absolutely no reason; the fear that your job application will be overlooked because of the way your name sounds; the agony of sending your kids to schools that may no longer be separate, but are far from equal; the realization that no matter how far you rise in life, how hard you work to be a good person, a good parent, a good citizen — for some folks, it will never be enough.”And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry. It can feel isolating. It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter — that you’re like the invisible man that Tuskegee grad Ralph Ellison wrote about all those years ago. And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real. They’re rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible. And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.”
- “You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote. That’s it; that’s the way we move forward. That’s how we make progress for ourselves and for our country.”
On June 9, 2015, Mrs. Obama delivered a commencement address to graduates at Martin Luther King Jr. Preparatory High School in Chicago. In the course of her remarks, she alleged that Americans across the country viewed blacks with strong families and strong work ethics as being virtually nonexistent:
“And over the past six years as First Lady, I’ve visited communities just like this one all across this country — communities that face plenty of challenges and crises, but where folks have that same strong work ethic, those same good values, those same big dreams for their kids. But unfortunately, all those positive things hardly ever make the evening news. Instead, the places where we’ve grown up only make headlines when something tragic happens — when someone gets shot, when the dropout rate climbs, when some new drug is ruining people’s lives. So too often, we hear a skewed story about our communities — a narrative that says that a stable, hardworking family in a neighborhood like Woodlawn or Chatham or Bronzeville is somehow remarkable; that a young person who graduates from high school and goes to college is a beat-the-odds kind of hero…. Wherever you go next, wherever you go, you all encounter people who doubt your very existence — folks who believe that hardworking families with strong values don’t exist on the South Side of Chicago, or in Detroit, or in El Paso, or in Indian Country, or in Appalachia. They don’t believe you are real.”
In a speech she delivered at a “Let Girls Learn” initiative in Argentina in March 2016, Mrs. Obama discussed her own personal experiences with sexism and sexual harassment. Among her remarks:
- “As I got older, I found that men would whistle at me as I walked down the street, as if my body were their property, as if I were an object to be commented on instead of a full human being with thoughts and feelings of my own. I began to realize that the hopes I had for myself were in conflict with the messages I was receiving from people around me.”
- “[L]ike most women, I know what it feels like to be overlooked.”
- During her days as a student, teachers “would call on the boys instead of the girls, even though the girls had better grades.”
- “[People] would ask my brother what career he planned to have, but would ask me what kind of man I wanted to marry.”
- “I started to question myself. Was I too loud? too much? Was I too bossy? Was I dreaming too big? And for years I would lie awake at night, and those doubts would eat away at my heart. But eventually I just got tired of always worrying about what everyone else thought of me.”
Also during that same speech, Mrs. Obama noted that Argentina’s parliament had one of the world’s highest percentages of female representatives, and that the country had already elected a woman as president and vice president. “Milestones that my own country has yet to achieve,” she added.
In an appearance at the 2019 Obama Foundation Summit, Mrs. Obama, while discussing the contents of her ghostwritten 2018 book, Becoming, said:
“[U]nbeknownst to us, we grew up in the period, as I write, called white flight. That is families like ours, outstanding families like ours, you know, who were doing everything we were supposed to do and better. As we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of what our families represented. And I always stop there when I talk about this out in the world because I want to remind white folks that ya’ll were running from us. You know, because this family — this family, with all the values that you read about — you were running from us, and you still running because we’re no different than the immigrant families that are moving in … the families that are coming from other places to try and do better.”
Asserting That Even Those Who “Know Nothing About Nothing” Should Vote
At a September 24, 2018 get-out-the-vote rally in Las Vegas, Mrs. Obama said: “Voting does not require any kind of special expertise. You know, you don’t need to be have some fancy degree to be qualified to vote. You don’t have to read every news article to be qualified to vote. You know what you need to be qualified to vote? You need to be a citizen … you need to have opinions about the issues in your community — that’s what qualifies you to vote. Don’t be intimidated, don’t let somebody intimidate you from being a part of this process. I’ve been voting since I was 18 years old — and trust me, I didn’t know nothing about nothing at 18 years old — right? But what you do know is what you care about. For all the young people, you do know you have a voice. You do have opinions about what goes on — that qualifies you to vote.”
Mrs. Obama’s New Podcast
On July 29, 2020, Mrs. Obama launched her first podcast, The Michelle Obama Podcast, on Spotify, a music-streaming and media-services provider based in Sweden. The podcast features conversations between Mrs. Obama and a wide array of guests, including her friends, family members, and former colleagues.
Stating That the Coronavirus Pandemic Presents an Opportunity to Change “How Wealth Is Distributed”
During the August 5, 2020 episode of her new podcast, Mrs. Obama characterized the deadly coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 as an opportunity to think about “how wealth is distributed” to lower-income essential workers. She had the following exchange with journalist Michele Norris:
Norris: “There’s kind of a new COVID vocabulary, isn’t it. There are also words that have always had some meaning, but that take on different meaning now, the word ‘hero,’ the word ‘essential’ [i.e., people classified as ‘essential workers’]. I think we will forever think about the word ‘essential’ in a different way. And, when we were told to stay home, they got up, got dressed, and went out into the world, risking their lives, to drive garbage trucks, to work in warehouses, to work in grocery stores, to work in hospitals. Often doing invisible, but yes, essential work, and I struggle with it because I’m not sure that we treat them like they’re essential.”
Obama: “And that’s something that we need to, that’s a part of that reflection, that we need to do, you know. With ourselves, and, and as a community. And we have to think about that, in terms of how wealth is distributed. You know, how, how these essential people are supported. And what does that mean? A lot of these people are broke. They don’t have health insurance. That it, if they were to get sick, as essential as they are, we have not, as a society, deemed it essential to make sure that they can go to the doctor and get the care that they need. And even if they can get COVID care, even if they can get tested, to keep working and doing our stuff, after the effects of the virus have worn off, and they are dealing with some lung issue, or some breathing issue, or asthma, that they don’t have to wait, in a, an emergency room, for hours on end, and then worry, that they can even, afford the prescription medication that they need to survive, I mean we have to think about this. We have to think about the people who are not from this country, who are essential workers. A lot of those folks are still out in the fields picking our corn, and making sure that that food is in our grocery stores, and working in these meatpacking plants, to ensure that the, that the cow that was slaughtered, gets into our bellies.”
Later in the podcast, Obama said:
“We’ve seen these times in our history before, not just like this, but, but, but when things are good, it’s easy to forget about that. To take it for granted. To start thinking, yeah, how much, do I really want my taxes going to that, and school lunches? Eh. You know, that’s a lot of money. What does it matter — let’s cut this, let’s chop that. But, all of that came, all the things that we look to cut were put in place in response to some crisis. That revealed to us that, hey, there are a lot of hungry kids, at home, because their parents are poor, so what’s the best way to feed them, we’re going to provide them with nutrition, at school. So, we, we have it, in our country’s DNA to step up. Always with great opposition, because you’re asking people to sacrifice, to give up, things that, that they think they deserve, that they’re entitled to for the sake of the greater good.”
Complaining About White People’s Racist Treatment of Her
In a late-August 2020 edition of her podcast, Mrs. Obama lamented that during her years as First Lady, white people commonly treated her with considerable disrespect. Some excerpts:
- “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…. 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.”
- “We [Mrs. Obama and a friend] had just finished taking the [Obama] 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. 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. 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?’ 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.”