Michelle Obama knows the mental gymnastics required to be the only Black First Lady. In the season finale of The Michelle Obama Podcast, she was joined by her 83-year-old mother, Marian Robinson and older brother, Craig to discuss parenting and politics. During the wide-ranging conversation, she spoke about the need Black people often feel to be “ten times better than” to achieve equality in the U.S.
That mentality starts at interactions with police, she says. “When you leave the safety of your home and go out into the street, where being Black is a crime in and of itself, we have all had to learn how to operate outside of our homes with a level of caution and fear, because you never know,” she explained. “We grow up, having to have conversations with our children. Because almost everybody I know has had some kind of incident where they were just minding their own business, but living Black, and and go accused of something.”
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This need to prove herself and rise above prejudice found its way into Barack Obama’s presidency. Her famous “When They Go Low, We Go High” catchphrase, coined at the 2016 DNC, spoke to the different lens through which people viewed Obama’s administration, as opposed to Trump’s. “You’re taught, you know, people are gonna assume the worst of you,” Obama explained. “So you’ve got to be better than, you’ve got to be ten times better than. And when we were in the White House, we could’ve never gotten away with some of the stuff that’s going on now,” she added, referring to Trump’s presidency. “Not because of the public, but our community wouldn’t have accepted that.”
Obama also said that those protesting racial injustice in the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others were tapping into an anger about “being accused of being less than you are.”
“You worked, you did your best every day. You showed up. And we did it in the White House, but there are people and jobs all over this community, all over this country, all over this world, who are doing the same thing, because that’s how we were raised. We have to be better, to just be equal. So the fact that there are people out there that treat us less than, when we’re working so hard to be better than, that’s where the pain comes from. That’s what these young people are so angry about. Because they’re doing everything right, everything they are told, and it’s doesn’t matter. A police officer will still stop them and accuse them of stealing a bike that their parents worked hard to get. That hurts.”
Despite the challenges Black people face in the fight for equality, Obama says she and others rely on their tight-knit circles for strength. “We have communities that stick together, and church groups, and, you know, little league teams. We’re piecing together a life with duct tape and glue and a lot of love and a lot of empathy,” she said. “So when people doubt us, it’s frustrating and it’s painful and it can make you angry.”
Listen to the entire episode, here:
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