This weekend, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama (pictured) delivered a both candid and powerful commencement speech to Tuskegee University‘s 2015 graduates, speaking to the many challenges African Americans face with racism in America, according to the Guardian.
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Tuskegee University is an historically Black college and university (HBCU) founded by the iconic Booker T. Washington in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1881.
On Saturday, Mrs. Obama spoke to the mostly African-American graduates by sharing her own struggles that she faced as her husband campaigned for president.
“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? Or was I too soft, too much of a Mom, not enough of a career woman?” she asked.
This fear became reality once New Yorker Magazine portrayed Mrs. Obama, a Princeton- and- Harvard-educated lawyer, as an Afro-wearing terrorist fist-bumper on their July 21, 2008, cover, with husband Barack Obama as a kufi-wearing Muslim in tow (pictured).
And the blatant racist imagery “knocked [her] back a bit.”
“It was a cartoon drawing of me with a huge Afro and a machine gun,” she recalled.
“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.”
The First Lady then admitted that the way she was being portrayed — and its potential effect on daughters Malia and Sasha — kept her up at night.
“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.
Ultimately, Mrs. Obama found peace in disregarding what the naysayers and bigots said, “I had to ignore all of the noise and be true to myself – and the rest would work itself out.
“I also worked to ensure that my efforts would resonate with kids and families – and that meant doing things in a creative and unconventional way.
“So, yeah, I planted a garden, and hula-hooped on the White House lawn with kids. I did some mom dancing on TV … 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.”
But with the recent internationally covered police brutality cases in America against Black men, Mrs. Obama made sure to warn this year’s graduates that obviously “the road ahead is not going to be easy.”
“It never is,” the First Lady said, “especially for folks like you and me. Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away. So there will be times … when you feel like folks look right past you, or they see just a fraction of who you really are.
“People would not see them as the hard-working graduates they appeared on the day of their graduation who had struggled to achieve their education, pay for it, and give back to their communities, she said.
“They don’t know that part of you.”
Referencing her aforementioned struggles on the road to the White House, Mrs. Obama explained, “Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.
“And my husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be. 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.
Mrs. Obama spoke even more pointedly when she said that despite all of the graduates’ accomplishments, they “will never be enough” for some within the United States.
“And 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.
“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.”
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