Michelle Obama spoke candidly about her experience as the first Black First Lady of the United States to Tuskegee University graduates on Saturday.
During her commencement address at the Historically Black College and University in Alabama, Mrs. Obama explained how she eventually realized “the chatter, the name calling, the doubting” she endured as a Black woman during her husband’s 2008 White House campaign “was just noise.”
She admitted that she initially suffered from sleepless nights worrying about what people thought of her, and wondered if she would hurt President Obama’s chance of winning:
“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,” Mrs. Obama said.
Her questions reflected stereotypes Black women often face, such as, “Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?” she said.
She talked about The New Yorker’s outrageous magazine cover in 2008, which “satirically” showed her as radical or anti-establishment:
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,” Mrs. Obama said. “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.
Or you might remember the on-stage celebratory fist bump between me and my husband after a primary win that was referred to as a ‘terrorist fist jab.’ And over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. One said I exhibited ‘a little bit of uppity-ism.’ Another noted that I was one of my husband’s ‘cronies of color.’ Cable news once charmingly referred to me as “Obama’s Baby Mama.”
The “terrorist fist jab” and “Obama’s Baby Mama” comments came from FOX News personalities, and Michelle Malkin made the “cronies of color” comment in her book, Culture of Corruption.
However, Mrs. Obama did not let untruths define her.
“I realized that if I wanted to keep my sanity and not let others define me, there was only one thing I could do, and that was to have faith in God’s plan for me,” she said.
Ms. Obama said when she became the First Lady, she pursued issues that meant a lot to her, such as honoring military families, keeping kids healthy and helping young people value education and complete college.
On Feb. 20, during “Celebrating Women of the Movement,” a Black History Month panel discussion at the White House, she said that education is the most important civil-rights issue of our day.
“[Tuskegee] Airmen who rose above brutal discrimination — they did it so the whole world could see just how high Black folks could soar,” she said. “That’s the spirit we’ve got to summon to take on the challenges we face today.”
Mrs. Obama told the graduates to ask themselves basic questions.
“Who do you want to be? What inspires you? How do you want to give back?” she said. “And then I want you to take a deep breath and trust yourselves to chart your own course and make your mark on the world.”