Even as a first lady, Michelle Obama revealed she’s experienced being invisible to White people.
As Black women, we’re very familiar with White people cutting in front of us in line as if we aren’t standing there, or grabbing an item off the shelf that we seemed destined to hold. But surprisingly, our Forever First Lady also suffered those same racist microaggressions—even while still in office.
“When I’ve been completely incognito, during the eight years in the White House, walking the dogs on the canal, people will come up and pet my dogs, but will not look me in the eye,” Obama said on the latest episode of her Spotify podcast. “They don’t know it’s me.”
On “The Gift of Girlfriends” episode of The Michelle Obama podcast, the former attorney and mother of two is joined by her besties, Denielle Pemberton-Heard, Kelly Dibble and Sharon Malone, M.D., an ob-gyn and the wife of Eric Holder.
Mrs. Obama said the common phenomenon is “so telling of how White America views people who are not like them. You know, we don’t exist. And when we do exist, we exist as a threat. And that’s exhausting.”
When Obama was returning from a soccer game with her daughters, Sasha and Malia, during their White House days, they encountered one such slight.
“We were stopping to get ice cream and I had told the Secret Service to stand back, because we were trying to be normal,” Obama began.
“When I’m just a Black woman, I notice that White people don’t even see me,” she continued. “I’m standing there with two little Black girls, another Black female adult, they’re in soccer uniforms. And a White woman cuts right in front of us to order. Like—she didn’t even see us.”
“The girl behind the counter almost took her order. And I had to stand up because I know [Pemberton-Heard] was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna cause a scene with Michelle Obama,’ ” Obama added. “So I stepped up and I said, ‘Excuse me? You don’t see us four people standing right here; you just jumped in line?’”
That’s when Mrs. Obama realized “we were that invisible” because the woman, she recalled, “didn’t apologize, she never looked me in my eye; she didn’t know it was me. All she saw was a Black person, or a group of Black people, or maybe she didn’t even see that.”