‘I can’t make people not afraid of black people’: Michelle Obama addresses epidemic of racism and says the best she can do is ‘show up every day as a good human to pick away the scab’

Michelle Obama says when her family – and other black families – moved to the South Side of Chicago in the 1970s, white families started moving out. 

The former first lady made the remarks at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday where the compared the experience to what immigrant families in America now face daily.

She explained that she wanted to remind white people that they were running from ‘us’, and that they’re still running. She added that ‘artificial things’, like the color of a person’s skin and the texture of their hair, can divide countries.  

‘As families like ours — upstanding families like ours who were doing everything we were supposed to do and better. As we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of what our families represented,’ she said.

‘One by one, they packed their bags and they ran from us, and they left communities in shambles.’

Former First lady Michelle Obama has spoken out about racism in America, comparing her experience of moving into a white neighborhood in Chicago to the same experience  immigrants now face - all the white people move out

Former First lady Michelle Obama has spoken out about racism in America, comparing her experience of moving into a white neighborhood in Chicago to the same experience  immigrants now face – all the white people move out

The 55-year-old explained that because of this experience she had always felt a sense of injustice. 

‘You know when people are running from you,’ she said. 

‘I can’t make people not afraid of black people. I don’t know what’s going on, I can’t explain what’s happening in your head – but maybe if I show up every day as a human, a good human, maybe that work will pick away at the scabs of your discrimination.’ 

Obama – who was accompanied on stage in front of students and community activists at the Illinois Institute of Technology by her brother Craig Robinson – said that their parents had instilled in them a set of beliefs that helped counter the discrimination they felt.

Michelle Obama (right) was accompanied by her brother, Craig Robinson (left), as she spoke about growing up on the South Side of Chicago

Michelle Obama (right) was accompanied by her brother, Craig Robinson (left), as she spoke about growing up on the South Side of Chicago

‘What our parents gave us was unconditional love and a notion that our voices mattered and that our opinions counted, and that what we said and thought had meaning,’ she said.

And she added that when husband Barack Obama was elected president for the first time, and the family moved into the White House, it allowed people to look past those ‘artificial things’.

‘Being the first black First Family gave America and the world the opportunity to see the truth of who we are as black people,’ she said.

She added that ‘you can’t worry about the legacy while you’re in it. Let your truth speak for itself’.  

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