Michelle Obama on Saturday told the graduating class at Alabama’s Tuskegee University that they should expect to face “daily slights” and racial prejudice when they enter the real world — just like she did.
“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,” Obama said to the class of 2015.
“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?” she said.
She told the class that she struggled with things like the 2008 New Yorker cartoon depicting her as a terrorist with a “huge afro and a 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,” she said.
The first lady told the graduates that both she and her husband understood what it’s like to be judged by skin color from their days in Chicago, long before they arrived at the White House.
“[M]y husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be,” she said. “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.”
The couple shared similar experiences last year to People Magazine, noting that someone had once confused her for an employee during her highly-publicized trip to Target in 2011.
“[T]he only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf,” she said.
“Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her,” Obama added. “Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.”
Watch the video of Obama at Tuskegee, via the Guardian: