Former first lady Michelle Obama said her family felt an enhanced sense of responsibility during their time in the White House as the first Black first family in American history.
“It was no accident that the administration was scandal-free. It was no accident that … our children had to show up right in the world. They carried a burden of making sure they weren’t messy, because it wouldn’t have been laughed off. It wouldn’t have been just, ‘Oh, it’s youthful, whatever.’ It would have been some bigger statement about the soul of Black folks,” Obama said in her recently launched “The Light Podcast.”
“So we didn’t underestimate that. But that, that weight is exhausting when you’re carrying that,” she added.
Obama’s comments come as part of her promotion for her third book, “The Light We Carry,” which reflects on how she’s dealt with relationships, self-doubt and anxiety during uncertain times.
The former first lady’s comments echo a common teaching in African American households that one must be twice as good as their White counterparts due to enhanced scrutiny, and underscore her unique experience as the first Black first lady of the US.
Obama said she had to quiet herself “because the mission during those eight years was bigger than just my voice. You know, we were the first.”
“Hopefully not the only, but we were the first. And when you’re the first at stuff, especially the first in the biggest spotlight with the world watching you – you don’t want to mess it up and you want to make sure that you are representing,” she told journalist Hoda Kotb, who served as one of Obama’s moderators on her book tour.
“One small misstep isn’t just a misstep for you, but it’s a misstep for your family, for your community, for your race, for all of humanity because we don’t often get a second chance,” she said.
Obama has been especially forthcoming about her time in the White House since her husband left office. In the same podcast episode, Obama revealed that she broke down into “uncontrollable sobbing” after leaving then-President Donald Trump’s inauguration, as the emotions of leaving their family’s home after eight years and resentment over Trump taking office overwhelmed her.
“The bar that we had to live under where a tan suit was a scandal, where a fist bump was deemed to be terroristic. Oh, don’t get me started,” she said in the second podcast episode, which featured a conversation with director Tyler Perry.
In a video clip from the book tour, which hasn’t been released on the podcast yet, Obama also shared that she opted not to wear her hair in its natural state or in braids, because America wasn’t “ready” to perceive that yet.