Independent News and Media

Michelle Obama: I was treated differently for being black

MICHELLE Obama has spoken of her experience being discriminated against as an African American.

In the 30-minute address at historically black Tuskegee University in Alabama, Obama referenced the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson, which were both sparked by racial tensions.

Speaking of her husband Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 to become President of the United States, Michelle said she was "knocked back" by how she was discussed in the media.

Obama described the strange terms used to describe her - such as "baby mama" - and references to the "terrorist fist-jab" (aka fist-bump) the couple did in front of cameras.

"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.

"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?"

Obama also spoke of her horror at about a New Yorker cartoon cover. In the drawing, Michelle was shown with an afro and carrying a machine gun and her husband was wearing traditional Middle Eastern dress.

"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," Obama said.

Advising her audience to "ignore the noise" and be true to themselves, Obama told of how she learned to stop stressing about what other people thought.

"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.

"So, yeah, I planted a garden, and hula-hooped on the White House lawn with kids. I did some mom dancing on TV," she said.

"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."

The corporate lawyer, however, reminded the outgoing students of the divides that still separate black and white people in the US. Obama said that she and her husband have "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."

Acknowledging that it's still not easy to be African America, Obama had these words for her audience: "It can feel isolating. It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn't matter," Obama said.

"And as we've seen over the past few years, those feelings are real. They're rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible, and those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country."