Former first lady Michelle Obama in a new interview discussed the fear that Black Americans often experience in their everyday lives and opened up about her worries for her own daughters.
Obama told “CBS This Morning” that many Black people “still live in fear” while doing ordinary activities, such as grocery shopping, walking a dog, and driving.
CBS host Gayle King asked Obama whether her daughters, 19-year-old Sasha and 22-year-old Malia, have their driver’s licenses.
“They’re driving. But every time they get in a car by themselves, I worry about what assumption is being made by somebody who doesn’t know everything about them,” Obama said in a clip of the interview, which airs Monday. “The fact that they are good students and polite girls. But maybe they’re playing their music a little loud. Maybe somebody sees the back of their head and makes an assumption.”
“The innocent act of getting a license puts fear in our hearts,” Obama added.
During the interview, Obama said she felt compelled to speak out after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the death of George Floyd, a Black man. The police killing last May sparked national outrage, with millions of people participating in Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.
The Obamas issued a statement reacting to the verdict, saying it “may have been a necessary step on the road to progress” but that “we will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system.”
Obama reiterated that position to CBS and stressed that concerns Black people face need to be talked about more, and “we have to ask our fellow citizens to listen a bit more, and to believe us.”
“We don’t wanna be out there marching. I mean, all those Black Lives Matters kids, they’d rather not have to worry about this,” Obama said. “They’re taking to the streets because they have to. They’re trying to have people understand that that we’re real folks, and the fear that many have of so many of us is irrational. And it’s based on a history that is just, it’s sad and it’s dark. And it’s time for us to move beyond that.”
Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday expressed relief after ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
In a statement, Obama praised the verdict, while also voicing the thoughts of many who want to see criminal justice reforms in the US.
“Today, a jury did the right thing,” he said on Twitter. “For almost a year, George Floyd’s death under the knee of a police officer has reverberated around the world – inspiring murals and marches, sparking conversations in living rooms and new legislation. But a more basic question has always remained: would justice be done?”
He added: “In this case, at least, we have our answer. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial.”
Obama went on to describe the tense experiences and prejudices that Black Americans endure when dealing with law enforcement.
“True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day,” he wrote. “It requires us to recognize that millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last. And it requires us to do the sometimes thankless, often difficult, but always necessary work of making the America we know more like the America we believe in.”
He also reaffirmed that the push for justice would not end with the conviction in Floyd’s case.
“While today’s verdict may have been a necessary step on the road to progress, it was far from a sufficient one,” he wrote. “We cannot rest. We will need to follow through with the concrete reforms that will reduce and ultimately eliminate racial bias in our criminal justice system.”
Obama expressed that he and former first lady Michelle Obama were thinking of the Floyd family, along with those who have never received justice.
“Michelle and I send our prayers to the Floyd family, and we stand with all those who are committed to guaranteeing every American the full measure of justice that George and so many others have been denied.”
“Barack and I never want to experience winter again,” Obama, a native of Chicago, Illinois, told the magazine. “We’re building the foundation for somebody else to continue the work so we can retire and be with each other – and Barack can golf too much, and I can tease him about golfing too much because he’s got nothing else to do.”
After leaving the White House, the Obamas relocated to the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC, purchased another home on Martha’s Vineyard, and kept busy with numerous advocacy, literary, and entertainment ventures.
The former first lady also has a new Netflix children’s show, “Waffles and Mochi,” that will debut soon and a special edition of her wildly successful 2018 memoir “Becoming” is being released for young readers.
In the near future, the Obamas will also celebrate the opening of the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago, which is currently under construction.
They most recently made an appearance at the January 20 inauguration of President Joe Biden, who previously served as Obama’s vice president.
Obama told People that during the pandemic, she struggled with “low-grade depression” compounded by the civil unrest over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans over the summer. Jury selection in the trial of one of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, Derek Chauvin, is currently underway.
She said she coped with 2020 by getting into knitting and swimming while being home with her two daughters Malia and Sasha, students at Harvard University and the University of Michigan, respectively, who spent months doing remote learning.
“Knitting is a forever proposition You don’t master knitting, because once you make a scarf, there’s the blanket. And once you do the blanket, you’ve got to do the hat, the socks … I could go on about knitting!” Obama told People.
Daniella Carter said if she’s learned one thing from Michelle Obama’s style, it’s what an unapologetic Black successful woman looks like “even when there are people in the world spewing hate.”
Carter is a Black trans activist and founder of the eponymous “Guest Book” which highlights creators of color.
She grew up in foster care but said seeing Obama “suited-and-booted” made her always remember that though she may not have had a mother who looked like her, she would learn to carry herself so that she and her future daughter could both grow up to be unapologetic Black, successful women.
She’s not the only one who feels this way.
After Obama’s 2021 inauguration look that left the internet in a daze, Insider reached out to her stylist, Meredith Koop, as well as ten Black professionals to talk about how Obama’s style has influenced them. Koop helped craft the image of how a Black woman looks co-hosting a state dinner, visiting the Queen of England, going on a book tour, and, most recently, at President Biden’s inauguration.
“She’s incredible at what she says, what she does, how much she cares. We all know this, and most of us agree,” Koop told Insider about Obama. “The legacy is her. The clothing is that extra element that is transcendent in nonverbal communication.”
What a powerful Black woman looks like
“When I saw Mrs. Obama show up to the inauguration for President Biden, I was in awe – her hair was laid and her dress slayed – even in a mask,” DeShuna Spencer, founder and CEO of the Black media streaming service KweliTV, told Insider.
Spencer said Obama has come to exemplify what a “powerful Black woman looks like.”
Sandrine Charles, a consultant, and cofounder of the Black in Fashion Council, told Insider the inauguration look was also one of her all-time favorites. “She always has had a presence of royalty,” Charles said of Mrs. Obama.
Eric Darnell Pritchard, fashion historian and Brown Chair in English literacy at the University of Arkansas, told Insider that Obama’s style is inextricably linked with her accomplishments, and “many Black people appreciate that self-authorship.”
“The ‘Forever First Lady‘ designation people bestow upon her is more than a term of endearment,” Pritchard continued. “It is a testament to how valuable her representation has been to the Black community.”
Koop styled Obama with tactical precision
There was no blueprint for how a Black First Lady should look. There had never been one before.
Styling the former First Lady was – and still is – a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. A delicate balance between looking good, but not too good. Obama’s outfit can never overpower her voice, Koop said.
Even with Obama long out of the White House, Koop still anticipates what people will say – how a dress was too loose-fitting, or how a color scheme didn’t match. Koop figures she probably wouldn’t have to incorporate such styling precision if Obama was white.
“It’s just obvious,” Koop said. “The way that the press in particular, and the media and different individuals construed her appearance into something negative – that was happening right from the beginning.”
“In the public consciousness the First Lady is always either in a suit or something very conservative,” Reese said. “Mrs. Obama really broke the mold in terms of how she chose to dress.”
She wasn’t afraid to show her feminine side and wear beautiful dresses, Reese continued. There was softness, optimism, and color. “We hadn’t seen that in the White House, probably ever,” she said.
Koop’s precise execution of Obama’s style paid off. The model Shavone Charles, known as SHAVONE. and also director of communications and creative partnerships at image-sharing app VSCO, called Koop and Obama the last decade’s “most dynamic duo.”
“For me and many other Black women, we look at Mrs. Obama and we see ourselves,” she said and pointed to the white Tom Ford gown Mrs. Obama wore to the state banquet at Buckingham palace in 2011 as one of her favorites.
That inauguration look exuded power
Nearly everyone Insider spoke with had a favorite outfit. Koop loves the rose-colored Atelier Versace gown Obama wore to her last state dinner as First Lady in 2016, while Pritchard is a fan of the black Vera Wang mermaid gown she wore to the 2015 China state dinner.
Black people are always “placed in a box” and judged heavily on their appearances, Jeannot said. “That day, Mrs. Obama was power walking into the room.”
Koop broke down for Insider the wineberry plum outfit, which came from one of Hudson’s latest runway collections. Hudson did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Koop wanted dark colors, jewel tones. A monochrome look. She requested some changes to the original ensemble: pants instead of a skirt and a less-shiny coat lining. A matte lining deflected camera flashes and made the belt stand out. The sweater turned into a bodysuit with a zipper in the back, so Obama didn’t have to pull it over her head, the boots were Stuart Weitzman, the matching gloves and mask were by tailor Christy Rilling.
Producer and former stock trader Lauren Simmons knows what it’s like to occupy historically white spaces.
She was the second African American woman to become a full-time trader at the New York Stock Exchange and said the way Obama uses style to exude power inspires her and is something she seeks to emulate.
“There have been many women throughout history who have had impeccable style,” she said. “But to see a Black woman do it fearlessly, and graciously is power in itself.”
High-profile women using clothing to start conversations
Pritchard added that the latest generation of politicians has also adopted this. Women, now more than ever, are bracing authenticity.
Even during the White House years, Koop would work closely with designers to craft what a modern First Lady looks like. Some would already come with ideas in mind, but many of those ideas had to do with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
“She was a white woman from a certain background, and Michelle is a Black woman from a different background,” Koop said. “I felt like the best thing would be to reflect the authenticity of Michelle in her own right.”
That meant Jason Wu gowns, lots of J. Crew, and, after the White House, custom Balenciaga glitter boots. In politics, there was a heavy blueprint in how women, especially, were supposed to look.
“Her influence is most pronounced as I prepare for the rare formal events that I’ve attended as a member of Congress. It’s so difficult to be modest and still stylish and Mrs. Obama always nailed it.”
Christopher Lacy, assistant professor of fashion management at Parsons, said Koop styled Obama in a way that celebrated the “female aesthetic” and felt she never sought to hide her height or athleticism, and instead, selected clothes that accentuated those attributes.
“What Meredith and Michelle have done together is show the world what millions of Black women and men have known for years,” Lacy continued. “That the Black silhouette is not confined to the borders of Eurocentric misconceptions”
Carter and Pritchard expressed similar sentiments. Carter added that before, the only Black bodies deemed to be powerful were those of entertainers, and that “it felt revolutionary to see someone not playing a character, sending a message to our communities and culture that Black chic, sexy, smart, and beautiful women are not just Hollywood roles.”
Underwood says Obama’s fashion legacy will manifest in a generation of powerful women freely expressing themselves using any colors, patterns, textures, designers, and hairstyles they want.
“No matter whether the clothing came off the clearance rack or if it’s a one-of-a-kind custom design,” she continued. “She shows us how to bring our full selves to the world stage, one incredibly accessible ensemble at a time.”