With less than two years left in the White House, Michelle Obama is taking time to respond to her critics, accusing them of treating her differently because she is the first African-American First Lady.
She made her remarks during a commencement speech at Tuskegee University over the weekend, comparing her experience as the wife of the first African-American president to the experiences of historical civil-rights leaders.
The First Lady recalled her experience on the campaign trail, accusing the media of giving her unique attention thanks to the “fears and misperceptions of others” who questioned whether she was “too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating.”
She alluded to Fox News personalities discussing her “terrorist fist jab” and referring to her on-screen as “Obama’s baby mama” as well as Rush Limbaugh suggesting that she had “a little bit of uppityism” thanks to her nanny state food polices.
Mrs. Obama also referred to Michelle Malkin’s book “Culture of Corruption” in which she described the First Lady as one of Obama’s “cronies of color.”
“All of this used to really get to me,” she admitted, referring to a lot of “sleepless nights” on the campaign trail because she was “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 explained that over time, she learned to handle the increased scrutiny of her words and actions and focus on her own expectations.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Obama also reminded the audience there were still people questioning her husband’s citizenship, and that he experienced his own “insults and slights” as a result of people’s “limited notion of the world.”
“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.”
(That last reference likely reserved for Rudy Giuliani).
After detailing her list of indignities suffered as a First Lady, Michelle Obama admitted that these slights paled in comparisons to those who still suffered as a result of their race – referring to racial discrimination that still existed amongst police officers, employers, and teachers in schools.
“I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day — those nagging worries that you’re going to get stopped or pulled over for absolutely no reason; the fear that your job application will be overlooked because of the way your name sounds; the agony of sending your kids to schools that may no longer be separate, but are far from equal; the realization that no matter how far you rise in life, how hard you work to be a good person, a good parent, a good citizen — for some folks, it will never be enough,” she explained.
She specifically addressed the events in Baltimore and Ferguson, explaining to critics that the racial discrimination cited in these cases was real.
“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,” she said.
But she also warned students from letting racial mistreatment be an “excuse” for failing to reach their full potential.
“I want to be very clear that those feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up,” she said. “Not an excuse. They are not an excuse to lose hope. To succumb to feelings of despair and anger only means that in the end, we lose.”
As a result of following her own heart and her own dreams, she explained, she was able to live up to her own expectations, in spite of criticism from others.
“I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values — and follow my own moral compass — then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own,” she said.