Michelle Obama knows what it’s like to experience “daily slights” as a Black woman.
The former first lady detailed some of those “invisible” incidents and the exhausting double standards that people of colour face on the latest episode of her Spotify podcast.
“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,” Obama said. “They don’t know it’s me.
“White folks don’t understand it’s like that,” she added. It’s “so telling of how white America views people who are not like them. You know, we don’t exist. And when we do exist we exist as a threat. And that’s exhausting.”
That sort of attitude and bias exists everywhere.
“What the white community doesn’t understand about being a person of colour 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.”
The episode also featured three of Obama’s close friends, Denielle Pemberton-Heard, Kelly Dibble and Dr. Sharon Malone. The former first lady told the story of a slight she faced alongside Pemberton-Heard, when she was still in the White House and they were coming back from a soccer game with Malia and Sasha Obama.
“We were stopping to get ice cream and I had told the secret service to stand back, because we were trying to be normal,” Obama said, before describing what happened as they stood in line. “When I’m just a Black woman, I notice that white people don’t even see me. ... 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 because I know [Pemberton-Heard] was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna cause a scene with Michelle Obama,’” she said. “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 apologise, 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.”
The former attorney has repeatedly spoken out about the racism she faced as the first Black first lady, including being called an ape and facing disparaging comments about her body.
“The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut,” Obama said in 2017. “Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won’t see me for what I am because of my skin colour.”