You guys are here because of real basic qualities, and that's honesty, integrity, hard work and a level of resilience. Those are the kind of things that you can't buy and you can't teach some common, oh, this is wrong.
And I need to see them coming so far to. I'm going to say I need a vacation. I need to slow down and. Hi, everybody, I am Michelle Obama, and this is the Michelle Obama podcast that's on this episode, we are revisiting the mentor mentee relationship, but this time we're looking at it from the other side.
On a recent episode, I spoke with my dear friend and mentor Valerie Jarrett, about how the best mentorship experiences grow and evolve over time.
And in this episode, I want to talk with some people who have been important in my life.
So I want to welcome three very special young women, China and Kristen and Janay, to our podcast today.
These three all started out working with me in various capacities in the White House, and they've all stayed in my life for years. Each of them has grown and matured and impressed me at every turn. While I like to say I've known them since they were babies. Today, I count them as true friends and I know that I've learned as much or more from them as they have for me. So in this episode, I just want to talk about our relationships and also what's been going on in the world and what it's like to be black women in this moment in history.
So why don't you all start by introducing yourselves?
I'm Kristin Jones, and I think I met you back in 2009 when I was an intern in the first White House class, which was pretty cool.
And then I came back and started as your research associate in the East Wing and then spent like seven and a half years like as your assistant and kind of doing a lot of everything.
Hey, so China Clayton, originally from Miami, Florida, always got a rep for the.
I was actually an intern in the White House during fall 2010. And from there I went on to do something called Advance following my internship. And then I got a call from the first lady's office to become her body person or trip director in 2015. And I've been with her ever since.
My name is Canadarm two. I'm your hairstylist.
I got into the Obama world in 2009. But yeah, I've been a part of your life ever since I started off with your daughters primarily and your mom, and then kind of made my way up the ranks. And I'm not with you.
But you're not just with me. Because when you were not doing my hair, you're also a little baby baller yourself. I am.
I also have a salon that I opened in 2017. And in twenty nineteen I launched my business coaching program for hairstylist. So when I'm not with you, I'm always finding something else to do.
Always. Always. And you were how old when you came on to 21.
I had just turned twenty one I think like a few months prior and I was scared. I didn't want to come up first. Yeah.
Why don't you talk a little bit about that.
So when I got the opportunity to move to DC to work with you all, I'm a child of immigrants. My dad was not having it. He was like, oh, you're going to drop out of college.
Well, you can't brush over that. You were the child of immigrants. Yes, because that that says a lot right there. Yeah.
So I'm first generation Ethiopian American, and my parents came to this country, obviously, to provide a better life for us. And so traditionally, when they when anyone thinks of success and when they measure success to be, it's like you're going to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, me saying that I wanted to drop out of college to do hair.
It just wasn't accepted. It was just like, you're going to do what? No, no, that's just that's not accepted. And even once I relocated and I took the position and I moved to D.C., I remember my dad didn't talk to me for three months and it was my mom kind of like smoothing it over to be like, look, she's taking care of herself financially, like she's OK.
She's fine. And there was this opportunity to come work for the first family, the first black family in the United States. It was like, how was I going to turn this down? Because there was this path that my parents created for me and I. And I understood that what they understood to be success was like very limited.
Right, by American culture, by African culture.
So for me, it was just kind of like I'm just going to be good at it and I'm going to show you, like I could still make something of myself if I don't go work in an office.
You know, each of you you know, pretty much all of your roles, the paths you've taken or very unconventional because, Christian, you were coming out of college, you worked for Teach for America, your parents black, too. And so the notion that you were going to intern in an unpaid internship, because let's just make that clear, starting out in the White House is for free. So what did it take to convince your family or what was it in you that made you decide to take this leap?
My mom actually was the one who pressured me into applying for the internship. She was really relentless about it. I mean, she just got you guys know those emails that go around to like black people where there's like literally like fifty thousand emails on it and it's like for scholarships and stuff. That's how we found out about the White House internship. And so I applied and came and my parents were pretty supportive. And I think the biggest stretch for them has really been post White House.
So in many ways, your mom was thinking, OK, you know, my my baby girl. Earl is going to be working with the president, President Obama and first lady, she's going to be a judge. It's going to be set for where this is going to be. And you took a turn right.
And I'm like, I want to try to build something all the way from the ground up.
And she's like, oh, that's not what you're supposed to do.
You will leave the White House and you get a huge salary and you stay there and like but I have to say, like, it was my time at the White House, my time with you, our time traveling the world, that really made me want to build something of my own.
And China, what about you? You don't come from wealth and privilege. Yeah.
Yeah. So we I applied to the White House internship. I get accepted. Did advance for a few years. And at that point I was at Disney my had left right because sorry. So I guess I left do an advance in twenty thirteen and begin working at Disney for about two years and then you know once in a lifetime opportunity came about to be Mrs. Obama's body person. I was hesitant because I'm someone who really believes in stability, so in my mind, I'm like, why would I take that leap and potentially be out of a job in the next two years versus staying at Disney and climbing the corporate ladder?
So my mom explained that, you know, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.
And she was right. Mm hmm. Yay for mom. I know. I always thank her every day. Every day.
We are raised to especially in black families and everybody here black to take the safe route, go to college, get your education, get your degree, get a job with good benefits. But what was it in you guys, do you think that led you to get off those traditional paths and make a decision to do something a little more risky? What gave you the courage?
I think I've always had that in me in some way. I was always fine, kind of closing my eyes and jumping in the deep end. It was never like as thoughtful or meditative as maybe it should have been.
I think even if we just look at like the past 10 to 11 years, I know that we've talked a lot about failure.
And so I think. Even though I've had the bravery in me, I think being more and more comfortable with the idea of failure and being less terrified of that concept, that that has helped me be a little more mindful in my risk taking, more present in my risk taking. And I think that's helped me be like more successful. My risk taking, too.
Hmm. Well, I know I talk a lot about not being afraid to fail. That's one of the things when I talk to young people, because that is the thing we sort of breed into kids. It's like, you know, you got to get straight A's. You there's a certain way to do everything. And a lot of parents try to shield their kids from failure because as a parent, you just don't want to see your kids go through that kind of pain.
But failure is something that you do kind of have to get adjusted to because it's a natural part of life. You know, you don't do anything successful without a little stumble along the way. And so many people are trying to avoid the stumble at all, ever, that they never take the chance and then they miss out on some really interesting opportunities. We've had conversations about this isolated world that we all live in, and we think that we have to go through everything independently.
And I think for me, especially within like the last five to 10 years, everything that I do, even if it's a risk, I know that I have a tribe and a community behind me. Right.
So it's like even if I fail, there is somebody in my in my, like, communal orbit that will be like I got you.
And I do think that, like, watching you with your friends, the way you guys communicate, the way you guys link up, like I often tell people when I'm with my friends outside of the White House world. And they're talking about their 20s, you know, it's like when they were all like clubs and like having a ball, we were at Camp David and I'm sitting around a dinner table with you and your friends talking about childbirth and college tuition and all of these things, checking my phone like somebody text me.
But, you know, after eight years of that, I was you know, I do think that I came into my 30s with a lot of wisdom, with a lot more insight than I think I would have had on who I want to be in the world and how I want to show up.
And even though I'm still practicing that and they're still failures along the way, I do feel very supported by you, your friends, the kind of family that we've all created with each other out here, because I don't know, there's something about the way I grew up in L.A. or my school where I just mistakes, like, gave me anxiety.
I even remember, like, probably the first six months at the White House. Now, to be fair, I was like 24, didn't talk to you. I was offered a job at the White House. I was a cocktail waitress in L.A. So obviously my answer to the question was, yes, I will take any job in the White House. And I walked in and they offered me the job to be your assistant. And I was like, have you guys asked her because she doesn't know me?
And they're like, yes, we've asked her, do you want to think about it? And I was like, does it come with any more money? Like a hundred dollars. And I remember Mel was like, we can maybe work something out. I was like, Oh, I'll take it. But I remember like coming into your family to me, you were this woman who was on TV, right? So I wasn't on the campaign. I didn't have these connection points with you.
And I was twenty four at that point. Twenty five running your life.
Yeah. And and you definitely walked around the house the entire time with that look on your face like I'm going to be fired at any moment here. And my husband used to say, whenever we see Kristen, he's like, what are you doing to her? She looks terrified. She looks terrified and worried. The whole time you were in your head.
I was so in my head very much in your head.
There was a lot in my head working it out. It was all over your face. What do you want to do? You had a poker face. I do not. You were on the verge of just terrified the entire time.
Let's talk about that that self-doubt that am I good enough syndrome that runs through all of our heads because there are a lot of young people listening and they would assume that if you're Michelle Obama or somebody who's worked for her, then you must have this innate confidence that you must not have ever doubted yourself, because how could you take on these big roles? A lot of a lot of young girls are listening and thinking you all have something or see something that they don't in themselves when the truth is we all experience that doubt.
Mm hmm. I think, you know, in so many ways, even as I sit here and I hear you say that, I'm like, yeah, that's how I feel every day still. Right? And I'll be thirty five in two weeks.
But we talk about the fact that a lot of men don't think that at all.
We had a lot of men just go, yeah, of course, of course I'll take the job. Of course they picked me out for me.
Everything I did, everything, everything I continue to do. It's like you can't get that like high school. I grew up in Orange County. My freshman year. My counselor was like, you're an international baccalaureate. I'm sure you could handle this. It was this constant reminder of you're not good enough. And I'll be honest, once I started working with the Obamas, it was just kind of like, how did she get that? Who is this young girl?
I was too young to have the resumé that allowed me the opportunity to do something like this. It was just like, why her? And then you felt it. You felt it like and DC like the whole titles thing. I didn't have a college degree. Like, I end up getting a degree while I was here.
But D.C. is one of those cities where I was just like, so where'd you go to school? Who do you work for?
And I started being proud. I was like, I'm a college dropout. Mm hmm. But I'm like, you don't know what I do and you don't know who I sit at the table with.
I found comfort in knowing that, like Kristen in China, everyone around us was young and we were all kind of struggling.
And like the three of us, as they both mentioned, we were away from our parents. So we became our own little family. Like when we thought we were going to get fired, I'd be like Kristen.
I would text each other in the I like you all the time and every other minute you're about to be fucking had. No, let me just make clear. At no point did any of you ever have a conversation that led you to believe that? No, no. I thought it was interesting. You know, today this is the day I may have to move in today. She's going to be the day if I could tell you how many times we text each other when we're in the same room like you did.
I did. I say that wrong? I said that should I, like, not come in the room right now, like, just the craziest things that we put in our heads.
But it's like it's all well, it's little things along the way. The baggage that we carry that when we get to this opportunity, we're just like, we shouldn't be here.
We messed up. We don't we're going to miss China.
You came in and over there talking about baggage. Yeah. The baggage that you pick up along the way.
I was just thinking the first time I was told I wasn't good enough, I was in the first grade and there was a gifted program at my elementary school. And my mom went to my teacher and was like, I want her tested for gifted. And the teacher told my mom, oh, no, she's not good enough for that program.
Those little cuts that we experience, women experience them in higher at higher rates than men, black folks in higher rates than others of these little bitty cuts and slights that we experience throughout our lives.
And the interesting thing is we never forget them. And that's why I try to remind adults, it's like we have to be very careful about how we talk to young people, not just teachers, but parents, mothers and fathers, you know, because if you tell your child, shut up and be quiet, they may never talk again.
And all of us are running around with those ghosts in our heads. So how to how have you guys started to overcome that? Or maybe you still have a Moscow state still struggling. I do. I definitely still have them.
And, you know, even a second ago when I was like, I'm 35, I still have the most like, oh, like take that off the table.
I don't want people to know.
But as you're asking this question of how do you get over them? I have to be honest. I've come a lot further by sharing them, by speaking them out loud. You know, the three of you in this room kind of pull them out of me even if I'm trying to hide them. And I think the more I say them out loud, the less power they have, the freer I become from them, because I'm able to connect deeply with other people over that shared experience of having doubt.
We are the only things that we can't see.
We can't see ourselves like I can see the greatness in you, you, you, you. But I don't ever see myself unless I'm looking in a mirror. And so surrounding yourself with people who can reflect back to you, who you can trust to reflect back to you the good and the bad and state the people who can stay around to work through the bad parts with you.
I think, as Christine mentioned earlier, for me, it's not only having the people around me that I can be like, oh, you're doing good. You're amazing.
Maybe like Nagara, that was shady. Like you were wrong for that. And I think that when you have those people around, you're able to kind of work through things. But it all starts with like you being honest and telling your truth. You have always, always encouraged us to, like, just say our truth.
And that is the opposite thing that we're taught. We're taught.
Keep to yourself. Don't be vulnerable. You don't share. Don't say it out loud. But the reverse is true if you hold all that stuff in, as we've talked about, you practice the negative narrative, that negative loop that's in your head. I'm not good enough because there are no other ways to break that cycle. You know, vulnerability is the key to our success.
Well, I was going to say self reflection is something that also helps me to overcome doubt when you just take the time to sit with your life and its trajectory. When I think back over my life and I realized that, you know, from day one, I should have been counted out because I was the product of a single parent household. My father went to prison when I was young. You know, my mom did what she had to do to make ends meet.
The mere fact that I overcame that in itself is powerful. And then you just keep thinking about everything over life and how much you've done or accomplished or struggled through. And that just gives me the power to kind of get it get out of my own head and realize you deserve everything that has come your way will share with folks the story.
If you feel comfortable about the time that you pulled me aside. This is recently in the last couple of years because you were going to tell me something, right? And I was like, oh, my goodness, it's going quit because see, while you all are thinking that you're going to be fired, I'm thinking, oh, these these kids are going to quit. They're going to need to make more money. I thought every conversation was, oh, my God, now I got to figure out somebody else I trust enough to be in my life.
So the reverse is often true.
But China, when you are talking about giving your truth narrative, it was I laugh at it because China was like, ma'am, I need to have a conversation with you. This is really serious. And I was like, oh, my Lord, what what is this? Because China also doesn't talk much, right? She does not like to share and she is working on that vulnerability piece. But China is the last one to speak at a meeting.
She likes to give her thoughts on the side, pull them over, to write them down, to think of through. So you have to really work to figure out what China is thinking.
So when China wanted to talk to elaborate on the story while I was at the White House, well, pretty much all my life, I never really shared that my father was in prison. And he spent a good chunk of my childhood in prison. He didn't get out and talk about ninth and tenth grade, and he went in when I was three years old. So I never shared that with anyone because, you know, I was just always ashamed of that story.
So post White House, is that Mrs. Obama? Don, I'm like I just got to tell you, in the event anything comes out of it and if anything happens, I want you to know this part about my story. And I just told her I was like, you know, my father was locked up while I was in when I was a kid. And she's like, is that all you had told me? Is that really all you had tell me?
And for me, I was just like, yeah, I wasn't expecting a reaction like this heavy you. I've never shared it. And at that moment, she and. Encouraged me to always share my story, because you never know what young person can relate to that, you never know what that can do for somebody who might have been in the same situation and they can see themselves in you now and they know that something's achievable.
But when you saw that story as a weakness, absolutely. You and this is why I say it's so important to put our truth on the table, because no. One, you can turn that around like a burden. You know, if you when you think you have to hide something about yourself, I always say you never bring your real, true free self to anything. Right. Because you are always worrying that somebody is going to find me out.
Right. And there's so much in our lives growing up as women of color because there is an ideal way to have live life. There is there is an ideal pathway out there. That's why people follow rich people. White people follow wealth and whiteness and privilege, because those are the messages that we've been taught.
That's the American dream. That's what that's the right answer when the truth is, is that nobody does it that one way. But putting that truth out there, it's like what I said to China was like, girl, that is your power. That explains so much about you and it explains so much about your resilience and your toughness. It tells me about what makes you hesitant, what makes you scared, that made you special, that made you different.
That made you unique. Because despite not having that relationship with your father, you grew up with a mother that, you know, saw you through. Who instilled in you the ability to get this far? You know, I the fact that you rose this far with all that worked against you makes you even a bigger winner and your life was tougher. And we're still sitting here in the same room together. And I that son in that God. Right.
You guys are now, as I've said to you, you are now the mentors while you are still being mentored by me and you will until the day I die.
So what would you say to young people that, you know, were you 10 years ago, bet on yourself, trust your gut, and don't be scared to reach out and ask for help outside in somebody's DNA with intent. Right. To learn from them. That's probably the greatest thing. And like no one is going to root for you like yourself. So, like root for yourself and know that there are other people out there that are just like you that have had the same hardships and failures and triumphs and just keep betting on yourself and trust your gut.
If I didn't trust my gut, I would have never worked with Michelle Obama if I didn't say I'm dropping out of college and I want to do hair, this would have never been just like you said, I'm not anything special.
I'm not I didn't come from money. I didn't I I'm my mother was a waitress. My father has his own company, like I'm average middle class child of immigrants. But look at where my life has taken me.
And it's because I listen to that little voice inside of me that's like, well, girl, you go to where you're going, let's start that sentence. You are everything special because you are the product of immigrants, because you are a smart black young woman, because you are I mean, that's the example of retelling that story. It's like starting out with that is that's what makes you special.
I would say do things practice, doing things that make you uncomfortable. And I would also say don't be afraid to bring your personal into the professional and your professional into the personal.
I find that like with the people in my life who are younger than me, who I mentor, I'm so curious and interested in their life, life like who they follow, what they watch on TV, what their perception of the world is.
I think that's where there's like this mutual teaching that happens, where how they live really informs my understanding of the world, be open to doing things that are uncomfortable.
And, yeah, just just bring your full self even as even as it evolves and is in an incomplete nature to all of your relationships.
I think for me, I want young folks to know that hard work is truly valued, especially minorities. We aren't given free passes. So to always put in the work because it can and will pay off in the end, you shouldn't be out here looking for the free ride or the free pass if you putting in the work and doing your due diligence. Something else that's key is exposure, making sure that when you have the opportunity to gain exposure, you are if that surrounding yourself with different people, that's making sure you go to a out of state college or anything like that.
If that's traveling, exposure is key because it opens your mind up to so much more than what's just within your three block radius of a neighborhood.
Oh, good sound advice.
No wonder you're my mentee. Make me proud.
More from Michelle Obama and her mentees in just a moment.
So let's talk about the state of things now. I mean, sort of where we are because, yes, we are still in the midst of a semi quarantine ish because the world is responding differently to that. But we believe in science. So we are still taking the coronavirus very seriously.
But we're also in a time where, once again, we are dealing with racial strife, blatant signs of injustice, things that people naively thought were all taken care of, issues that had gone away in America and around the world. And lo and behold, here they are, black men, black people still being killed on the streets, black folks, poor folks, brown folks dying at higher rates from a virus and not much going on. Let's just check in.
How are you all feeling as young women? Women of color?
I'm angry. I think I'm more angry at the fact that so many people, like, ignore what's going on. Right. I feel this responsibility to no longer stay quiet. Right. Like things that bothered me or the fact that people want to ignore because they don't know what to say, to just be like, this is what it is.
I'm a black woman. You are going to recognize what is going on and how I'm feeling. You don't have to. Your experience is not my experience. And I would like I know that. But you're going to address it.
I think for me, it's interesting because this is kind of like the first time I feel like I've been physically in a room with you guys. And since this is all happened and you guys know this, my grandfather, who is a black man, passed away from covid. So we as a family were dealing with that for six weeks, the ups and downs of that whole experience. And, you know, my grandpa was 94. He lived a long life.
And there are hundreds of thousands of people who have family members who passed away who are young. I'm angry, too. I go through these really interesting moments of like trauma, I think.
And we talked a little bit about this, but there's this trauma of just being black in America that you're seeing on social media.
There's a trauma of watching people kill you, people who look like you based on how they look. And having a brother who, you know, God forbid, he ever got pulled over is not going to have children.
He's not going to be somebody who, you know, his brother isn't either. Plenty of my friends, brothers, aunt. Then also the trauma of like watching white people process. It has been that's sent me over. There have literally been days in the past three weeks where I have been watching social media. There was this one clip that was floating around of this really brave young girl. She's a teenager. She was a white girl trying to convince her parents not to be racist like that.
Black people weren't all whatever adjective they wanted to come up with.
I literally had a panic attack for about 15 seconds and then had to pull it together for a call. I had to get on a call. And so just this idea that, like the humanity of people was being discussed or defended or debated, that's a conversation that we don't have that we've never had.
So I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I will just because we'll be vulnerable. I'm probably like Elizabeth wrote about this in her essay.
Elizabeth Alexander has been that Auntie Lizzie killing it in The New Yorker. But, you know, we probably all have very low grade depression that that is obvious from insecure, the TV show, which is brilliant.
And I think they do a great job addressing not just mental health directly, but also this low grade. Like we're just not that happy.
Nobody is that happy in our community. And yeah, so I'm exhausted a lot and I'm trying to work. What has been helpful is I do feel like our agency right now is doing important work.
We employ black people by the grace of God are we've been able to stabilize our business through covid. We've been able to pay our workers every paycheck, which is really important to me, Inari. And we continue to get work and be able to continue to employ people of color.
So that feels good, that feels meaningful, that feels significant and important. That keeps me going. It's why I get out of bed.
But. It's a lot, and I think it's a lot to be quarantined and not be able to be in conversation with loved ones like we typically would be in this room right now.
Well, that's why this podcast is important. Yeah, because hopefully it will give people an opportunity to hear, to listen, to process. To share. Mm hmm. China, I see you write notes over there. Yeah.
I think for me, a feeling that I haven't been able to shake is guilt and it's guilt when it comes to the coronavirus, because I feel like I'm now at a place where I'm a few steps removed from my childhood. And I know that there are people in that neighborhood who may not bounce back like I have the opportunity to bounce back from. And I feel guilty because of that, because I'm not in that same position anymore. There's a guilt that comes with.
The you know, the protests and seeing, you know, these black folks being abused and killed by police officers, because I'm I'm trying to process why when I initially saw these videos of Sandra Bland's and the Orlando Castile's, why I didn't feel the same anger and hurt, you know, when I first saw them that I'm feeling now. And I think a lot of that has to do with the pandemic and the mere fact that I am forced to sit in it and sit with it.
Whereas before it was business as usual, you saw it, you're like, damn, another one. And then you kept going. But right now, since everything is at a standstill, you know, I'm processing these things a little bit more in depth than I ever have before. And there's a guilty feeling there. There's a guilty feeling of feeling as if I've failed Gen Z because I wasn't out there protesting and making sure this stuff was corrected prior to them being involved in Mamu.
And I had this conversation of just the mere fact that the world was a little different back then. Right. We thought we were headed in the right direction. Things felt a little better. So my my activism back then was being a part of your husband's campaign, getting him in the White House, making sure he was elected. You know, but I just just feel very guilty.
What do we do as black woman with feelings of guilt? Like the one that China articulated and I am going to add some more to that, I think more so I feel like as black women, we feel this different weighted pressure of guilt, right? Like I feel like I have this extra responsibility that I have to fix it and I have to be the voice. I have to be the voice for my brother and my dad and my sister them because their industry and the other industry part don't get me started on.
I'm tired of that.
But there's why why is there this feeling that we feel another layer?
Yeah, well, some of it I don't think I have all the answers, but I can say, yeah, you're talking to somebody with a lot of people said that I should be running. And there's a guilt that comes with the fact that, well, there were a lot of people who thought, well, you guys were in there eight years and so you should go back in there. And so, yes, I understand the guilt. I understand the feeling of, you know, can't we do more?
There's there's it's never enough. It's so yeah, I, I feel the guilt and I don't know whether I feel it more because I'm a black woman. Maybe it is. Maybe that's our nature. Maybe that's our nature of fixing things, of nurturing people, of being the, you know, the glue in our families and in our communities that, you know, when things fall apart, usually it's the women in our lives who keep it going, because in the black community, so many of our men were emasculated, were imprisoned or wrongly dealt with, were you couldn't get jobs that we could get it, you know, because the black men in our community were so destroyed by the systemic, continuous racism that we were the ones left to keep everything afloat.
The country has put so many roadblocks up for men of color that the burden does fall on us as women left behind. It's it's been our legacy is black women in this country for four hundred years. But like I say, the first thing we have to do is claim it. Yeah. You know, we got to put it out there and look at it in its truth. I know I have felt for so long that I don't have the luxury of falling apart, that if we don't get up, we may never get up.
And that that's one of my fears. It's like I got to get up. So we learn how to adjust to the trauma that we face. We learn how to adapt because what is the alternative? And sometimes we turn off to it China, because that's our break. If I got to wake up every day and face the world as it is right now, oh, you know, sometimes you got to turn it off.
Does it get through it? The one thing I can say to all of you is that, well, yeah, that's how you feel, you know, I mean, when you put it out there like that. Well, of course. Now, the the thing that's frustrating is that people who aren't in our position don't understand. That's that's the part that hurts. Yeah.
It's ah, it's it's all of the women, white women, liberals who are not in our position. Who. Don't know how hard this is, how do you not resent them? Hmm, well, because there's a reason why they don't know.
You know, it's empathy. You know what I what I've talked about throughout this entire series, it's like it's an emotion that we have underdeveloped. We don't teach it enough in our kids putting ourselves in the shoes of others. And yes, in these times, it's easy not to practice it because one could say nobody's trying to be in our shoes, not as black folks. You know, we've had a country that has let us down by people not taking the time to figure out what how hard must it be with me being who I am and the system being the way it is.
How hard must it be? So, no, we haven't had many people who are not us putting themselves in our shoes. But like I've said, when they go low, we go high.
So how I get through it is that I put my my myself in their position. You know, no one you can't understand what you don't know. And when you're white in this country, you have the luxury of only knowing what you know. So I think that resentment is a wasted emotion when the truth is, is that we need to educate. You know, we we now need to stop trying to be so brave and holding it together, because what it is done is given other people the excuse to think that we're fine, because we are showing the world every day that we get on the bus and go to our jobs and ignore the the underlying racism and not talk about it and not bring it up at the office and to alter ourselves to fit into this majority, quote unquote, majority.
We deny our white brethren the opportunity to learn about what our pain is like, what our truth is like. You know, we haven't they don't know because we don't share and we don't share because we were told sharing that is a is a risk.
The deep pain is that, you know, still, you know, still you are still you afraid? Still we don't belong still. Still you trying to put us in jail still. You know that us living our lives. Right. Going to church, raising kids, being president, going to school. All of that before it's rewarded. It's questioned. It's challenged. How dare you be black and intelligent. How dare you try to be president. You know, how dare you try to own your own business is like, man, we keep playing by your rules.
And as I said, you changed the rules. Mm hmm. Why? Because we're because of the hue of our skin is different. Oh, my God.
We aren't even trying. It feels like we're aren't even trying to be better. We aren't trying to learn. That's the frustrating thing, because it goes on both ends, because on the one hand, I'm like, OK, white folks still we're still here. But I'm also black folks, women, young people. We're not voting.
I never thought electing Barack Obama would end racism in America. That wasn't you know, I was too old to be that naive. Maybe young people did believe that maybe young people thought, you know, having that one black man without a Congress and without a Supreme Court and without full control over three branch system was supposed to move heaven and earth and change it all in eight years.
You know, I can understand being confused by that if you don't know how this democracy works, but that may lead to confusion. What does constitute change? How much work and coordination has to go in to move the needle just so slightly and to not get complacent? Because when you're moving the needle that slightly, you take your eye off the ball and it slips right back.
I was having a conversation yesterday. It was just like our team was talking and we were talking about racism and like where it comes from, like, how did we get here?
Like, what is it about black people that scare white people so much? And I was saying that it's really to me all about the power of storytelling, of narratives. And like when you were saying this idea that black people aren't human is where it started than they were three fifths then they were property. Just this idea of lesser. This is like a story. This is like cultural heritage, the cultural heritage.
It's the story of the birth of this nation. Yeah.
And so on one hand, how exciting that, you know, we all have the opportunity to create other stories.
Storytelling is huge in culture right now.
Now, I think you make a good point about the stories we tell ourselves, you know, and and we and we if we practice those stories over and over again, it becomes our truth.
And that's why it is so important to practice a different set of stories in order to get ourselves as individuals into a different mindset about ourselves. I mean, it starts from within, right? So you can't tell a better story about your community if you can't find a way to tell a better story about yourself. You know, the the self-doubt, the the self-hatred, quite frankly, that can go on among oppressed people, women, people of color, those that are not deemed to be at the top of the hierarchy.
Those stories, if we can't unravel that within ourselves and start their. Then we won't be able to see it in others who look like us. That's one of those you got to love yourself first. You've got to believe you're worth it to believe that your neighbor, the other the other woman across the way who looks like you deserves it, too. And we just don't see those images enough about ourselves. I think we're doing better as a as a culture.
Now we're seeing a more diverse image of black people. You know, the fact that insecure, you know, is that is among our favorite.
You know, I mean, to see EESA every week on the screen live in her life and making her mistakes and have it be just as ordinary as watching Karen, you know, tell her story.
That's that's powerful. And I do want to take this conversation into the positive, because the truth is that is what progress is. That's something that I tell you guys all the time. It is the progress of generations. It isn't the progress of one or two presidential terms. That's four years. That's eight years. That's nothing. But the the progress of a generation is is really powerful. And I think we're seeing that on display in the midst of these protests.
This is the first time in my life that I have seen such diversity of people out there, you know, of all ages and races, you know, as you asked, is like, how do you keep from being resentful? It's like, well, we have to stop and look at what is happening. Right, because there is something about this moment that is tapping into the humanity of more than just the people who have been victimized by it in a way that I haven't seen since the civil rights movement and China.
Maybe that is because we are now sitting in it, all of us, you know, not just you and me, but we're all on quarantine and and we are all unable to turn away. But whatever it is that it is a sign that that humanity is there in all of us. And it's also something that Barack and I have talked about. This generation was the Obama generation. These were the kids of all races and political backgrounds and who grew up only knowing a black man as their president.
And I know this is frightening to some people out there that want to deny the impact of that. These kids were raised to believe in a different kind of America and their parents were part of that, instilling that belief that all men are created equal. I mean, the people were teaching that around the dinner table and young women are being taught in ways now that they can do and be anything and all that. And they have fathers who are parenting them differently, who don't believe that they should just go off and get married to the highest bidder, but that they have to have their own voices and their own careers and their own autonomy.
Those have been the conversations around the dinner table. These kids of all races were told that that was America and that there's honor and truth. And now they're seeing the opposite at the highest levels.
They're seeing the very opposite of what they've been taught to be by their parents of all races. And they're seeing it on social media and on their phones. And it is real and and and it is clear the hypocrisy is right there. And it is hard to look away. It is hard to look away. And that is change. And my belief is that these kids will raise their kids differently, assuming that we don't get so depressed and downtrodden that we give up the fight, which is directly tied to voting because we could roll over or we could just protest our way into oblivion absent the vote.
But if we keep the momentum going and send a message and this coming election of the America that we want for our kids, then that next generation will be even better than we are. It is generational change and it feels a little scary now because we don't know what this is, because we've been disappointed in the past. Right. Or things have started to change. And then we just like with our administration, we thought we were going in one direction and didn't realize that they were still some underlying stuff going on, some resentments and some beliefs and some old stories about who we were as a people that were still out there.
But why why wouldn't they still be out there in the. Don't go away by magic, they go away by being replaced with other stories. So now our challenge is, is that we've got to tell those stories and we have to start with telling our own loud and clear. And that starts with not telling it with our voice, but telling it with how we exist in the world by bringing our blackness and brownness and humanness to every table that we're in.
We've got to bring it all to the table and say, deal with it. Let's talk about it. Why does it bother you? Why are you afraid? But if we're hiding it and we make it comfortable, well, our our white brethren never have to adjust because we're not asking them to. So we got to start asking them, adjust. I can't be your only black friend. Where are the others?
It has been a pleasure having you guys here. I, I'm so proud of you. Thank you. Thank you for having. Well, as you can see, I am proud to count on China and Kristen and Yaoundé in so many ways, they are thoughtful, empathetic and just plain old brave. I am so incredibly impressed and proud by the women they've become and are still becoming. And that's why I'm so grateful to count them as my friends, the little sisters I've never had.
So if you have some special people in your life, especially if you're a little bit older than they are, I hope you'll take some time to talk with them and hear what's on their mind, especially as we navigate this complex and draining process of wrestling with racial injustice.
Even if you just listen, especially if you just listen, because this process of growth and understanding isn't something that's going to happen on social media with a bunch of memes and tweets.
And Lord knows, our politics are not the best avenue for these kind of conversations. But if we can reach out and share our stories and allow each other to be a little vulnerable, then maybe we can make some progress person by person, relationship by relationship. Thanks so much for listening, everyone, and we will talk again soon. The Michelle Obama podcast is a Spotify original presented and produced by Higher Ground Audio in collaboration with Gaslight Productions. From Higher Ground Audio, Dan Fierman, Anna Holmes and Mukta Mohan are executive producers, Jenny Marrable is our editorial assistant.
Adam Sacks is our consulting producer from Dusseldorp Productions.
Mischa Youssef is the executive producer R-1 Nexen. Jonathan Shiflett are the producers additional production support from Mary Knoff. Jonathan Shiflett is also our engineer. Monika Wilhelm is the archival producer and transcriber. Rachel Garcia is the Slate editorial assistant.
Daniel Ek, Dawn Ostroff and Courtney Holt are executive producers for Spotify Special thanks to Mackenzie Smith, Joe Palsson, Christina Shockey, Melissa Winter, China Clayton, Alex Mae, Caroline Adler, Moralez and Marone Halema Schol. And thanks to clean cut studio search party music. Tyler Leuchtenburg, Dylan, Rupert Carolynn, Lipka Young Creative Agency and Nazaryan. Our theme music is by Stevie Wonder. Original music by Andy Coulson and Tilly Fresco. The song you heard at the beginning of the show is made it by Teyana Taylor.
Thanks for listening to the Michelle Obama podcast.