“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.” — Michelle Obama
On Saturday, Michelle Obama gave Tuskegee’s commencement speech and spoke about the racism she’s faced since being First Lady, but blamed it on people’s “fears and misperceptions” of others.
“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?” she said during her speech. “Or was I too soft, too much of a mom, not enough of a career woman?”
Obama also said that she’s been accused of everything from being ‘uppity’ and also the president’s ‘Baby Mama”.
“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,” she said.
“My 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.”
Obama told graduates students that the key to getting through it all was to not let others define her.
“I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. I had to answer some basic questions for myself: Who am I? No, really, who am I? What do I care about?” she said, adding that the thing she cared most about were her daughters. “And at the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name-calling, the doubting — all of it was just noise. It did not define me. It didn’t change who I was. And most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back.”
She implored the Tuskegee graduates to also follow their own passions.
“I want you to act with both your mind, but also your heart. And no matter what path you choose, I want you to make sure it’s you choosing it, and not someone else,” she said.
Image Credits: AP/CNN