Michelle Obama Recalls Her Experiences With Racism as First Lady: 'When We Do Exist, We Exist as a Threat'

On the newest episode of 'The Michelle Obama Podcast,' Michelle Obama spoke candidly about dealing with racism even while she was the First Lady.

michelle racism
Image via Getty/Ethan Miller
michelle racism

Michelle Obama opened up about a particularly “exhausting” experience she had with racism during the latest episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast.

While chatting with her friends Denielle Pemberton-Heard, Dr. Sharon Malone, and Kelly Dibble, Obama was candid about an incident that occurred while she was still First Lady. She described how she took her daughters, Sasha and Malia, and Pemberton-Heard to a Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop.

“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.”

“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 said that the girl who was working the counter almost took the white woman’s order ahead of Obama.

“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. They don't know it's me.”

Obama stressed that the woman's treatment of her was hurtful. “What white folks don't understand, it's like that is so telling of how white America views people who are not like them,” Obama said. “You know, we don't exist. And when we do exist, we exist as a threat. And that, that's exhausting.”

She also talked about why it’s important for her to have close Black friends: “My girlfriend group, while it is diverse, it has been so important for me to have Black women in my crew.”

“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.’”

Obama’s recollection of that incident was sparked by the four friends discussing the confrontation between a Black bird watcher and a Karen in 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.”

You can listen to the episode below.

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