Nearing the end of her historic eight-year tenure, First Lady Michelle Obama was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey about her journey as America’s first African American first lady.
Their candid conversation in the White House, which aired Monday night on CBS, covered topics including the presidential election, Obama’s initiatives, her hope for America and how she dealt with name-calling and negativity.
Choosing to be Her Authentic Self
Obama first opened up about her experience as first lady during her 2015 commencement address at Tuskegee University in Alabama. In her speech, she 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.”
Obama also said in her speech, “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.'”
At Tuskegee University’s commencement ceremony the First Lady talked about race and how she was perceived during the 2008 Presidential campaign.
Winfrey played a clip of Obama’s speech and asked her thoughts on being label as an “angry Black woman.”
“That was one of those things where you think, ‘Dang, you don’t even know me,’” Obama said. “You just sort of feel like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ And that’s the first blowback.”
She continued, “You think, ‘That is so not me.’ But then you sort of think, ‘Well, this isn’t about me. This is about the person or the people who write it. That’s just the truth.
“You start thinking, ‘Oh, wow, we’re so afraid of each other,’” she told Winfrey. “Color. Wealth. These things that don’t matter still play too much of a role in how we see one another.”
Obama continued, “[I]t’s sad because the things that least define us as people is the color of our skin and our bank accounts. It’s our values. It’s how we live our lives.”
She said she was determined to live out loud, so that people could see her authentic self.
“I thought, ‘Okay, well, let me live my life out loud so that people can then see and then judge for themselves,’” Obama said. “And that’s what I want young people to do: Just live.”
Obama said she indeed went to bed on election night without knowing the final results, as said in a prior interview. But the first lady said she kind of felt how things were going by the time she went to bed. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when she checked her iPhone the following morning and learned President-elect Donald Trump won the election.
“You know, this — this past election was challenging for me as a — as a citizen. To watch and experience. It was painful,” Obama told Winfrey.
An influential surrogate for Democratic candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama gave an emotional speech at rally in Manchester, N.H., in October. She denounced Trump’s behavior toward women without mentioning his name. It has been called a defining moment of the presidential campaign.
“I can’t believe that I’m saying that a candidate for President of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women,” Obama said. “I cannot stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.”
The first lady commented that what was occurring in Trump’s presidential campaign was distorted politics.
“This is not normal,” she said. “This is not politics as usual.”
Obama told Winfrey she believed it was necessary for her to address the unprecedented rhetoric used in a presidential campaign.
“You can’t just stand before people and give a regular political speech,” she said.
Supportive of Transition … Even Though President Obama Wasn’t Supported
Obama told Winfrey she and President Obama are supportive of Trump’s transition into the presidency, without mentioning the president-elect’s name.
“Barack and I are so supportive of this transition,” she said. “Because no matter how we felt going into it, it is important for the health of this nation that we support the commander-in-chief.”
But Obama quickly added that it “wasn’t done when my husband took office, but we’re going high and this is what is best for the country.”
She continued, “We are going to be there for the next president and do whatever we have to do to make sure he is successful because if he succeeds we all succeed.”
Winfrey asked her to explain what she meant about support not being offered to President Obama.
“There were people who did not support his presidency,” Obama said.
“There were people in Congress. There were leaders in Congress who did not support his presidency, which was not something that was good for the country. It was good for politics, but it wasn’t good for the country. And that wasn’t the right way to approach it.”
Obama may be referring in part to what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) famously said in 2010: “Our top political priority over the next two years, should be to deny President Obama a second term.”
In regard to Melania Trump taking on the role of first lady, Obama told Winfrey that she didn’t give her any specific advice during her visit to the White House. But, she told Trump that “You really don’t know what you don’t know until you’re here” and said, “The door is always open.”
Obama also noted that Laura Bush was very supportive of her and her team.
A Question of Hope
President Obama’s election platform was built on hope for change.
“Do you think that this administration achieved that?” Winfrey asked the first lady.
“Yes, I do,” Obama replied, “because we feel the difference now.”
“See, now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like. You know? Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept. And Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was just a nice slogan to get votes. I mean, he and I and so many believe that if you — what else do you have if you don’t have hope?”
This portion of Winfrey’s interview was released last week, and President-elect Trump responded to Obama’s comments on Saturday.
“We have tremendous hope, and we have tremendous promise and tremendous potential,” Trump said in Mobile, Ala., on the final stop of his “thank you” tour.
“And I actually think she made that statement not meaning it the way it came out,” Trump continued about the first lady.
According to The Hill, Trump noted that he met with the Obamas following his November 8 victory, saying of the first lady, “She could not have been nicer.”
President Obama made a short appearance during Winfrey’s interview with his wife, and he agreed that the nation achieved hope under his administration.
“History moves in cycles and what lasts is the impact what we’ve done has had in people’s mind and hearts and that continues,” he said.
The president also said what surprised him most about his wife as first lady of the U.S.
“The way in which she blended purpose and policy with fun so that she was able to reach beyond Washington on her health care initiatives, on her military family work was masterful.”
Obama confirmed she would not run for political office in the future.
“This is a hard job,” she said. “It requires a lot of sacrifice, it’s a weighty thing. The next family that comes in here, their lives will be turned upside down.”
Winfrey asked Obama what her desire is for the United States.
“My desire for this country is that we remain hopeful and we find a place in our hearts to love each other. It’s really simple.”