In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, First Lady Michelle Obama discussed her experience in the White House and the public eye, and looked ahead to the future of the country after her husband leaves office. Her poignant words served as a reminder of why she continues to be an extremely well-liked public figure.
First Lady Michelle Obama has consistently received high approval ratings throughout her husband’s presidency, and, in an interview on CBS with Oprah Winfrey, Obama again radiated the inimitable combination of incisiveness and warmth which has earned her such high regard.
The First Lady spoke on a range of topics, from learning what it means to be in the White House, to her work with children and military families, to Winfrey’s offer to go “glamping” together after the Obamas move out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Obama was especially affecting on the topic of resilience and hope. She spoke candidly about how she handled negativity, especially as a Black woman:
OPRAH: Was there a time where you thought this period would make or break you? When did you feel the most tested?
OBAMA: You know, I think I tend to push the challenges — this is a defense mechanism that I’ve had throughout my life, you know — the bad stuff, I just don’t hold onto, you know? I mean, so if we were to sit here and you were to read through some of the bad stuff? I’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s — oh, I forgot all about that.’ It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I think I was kind of mad then.’ But I think the way I handle things and, you know, I think we — we as women do it. We as Black women better be able to do it —
OBAMA: — because there’s so much that comes at us all the time, every day, in subtle ways that could tear your soul apart if you let it. But my mother always taught me, ‘Girl, you better keep it moving, you know? You better brush it off.’ And I think I’ve grown up doing that. So the challenges? Yeah, there are times that, you know, frustrated me. You know, this — this past election was challenging for me as a, as a citizen. To watch and experience, it was painful.
The First Lady also touched on her husband’s consistent and most resonant theme of hope:
OPRAH: Your husband’s administration, every — everything, the election, was all about hope. Do you think that this administration achieved that?
OBAMA: Yes, I do. Because we feel the difference now.
OBAMA: See, now we’re feeling what not having hope feels like, you know? Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept. And Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was just a nice slogan to get votes. I mean, he and I and so many believe that if you — what else do you have if you don’t have hope?
OBAMA: What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope? You know, our children respond to crises the way they see us respond. You know, it’s like the toddler that bumps his head on the table —
OPRAH: That’s right.
OBAMA: — and they look up at you to figure out whether it hurts. And if you’re like, ‘Oh, my god,’ they’re crying. But if you’re like, “You know what, babe, it’s okay, it’s okay.’
OBAMA: And I feel that way about the nation. I feel that Barack has been that for the nation in ways that people will come to appreciate. Having a grown-up in the White House who can say to you, in times of crisis and turmoil, ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay. Let’s remember the good things that we have. Let’s look at the future. Let’s look at all the things that we’re building.’ All of this is important for our kids to stay focused and to feel like their work isn’t in vain, that their lives aren’t in vain. What do we do if we don’t have hope, Oprah?
It is incredibly heartening and helpful for me to hear such uplifting and forward-looking words from the First Lady, at a time when many of us are, as she said, experiencing “what not having hope feels like.”
While it is vitally important to be honest, as she is, about the alarming normalization of the decidedly abnormal happening around us, it is equally important to work to cultivate hope within ourselves, and for the next generation.
If, after years of hatred and cruelty and slander being thrown at her from all sides, the First Lady can still “live her life out loud,” and look toward the future with both gratitude and optimism, then I will be first in line to follow her lead.