Michelle Obama Tells Grads About Experiencing 'Daily Slights' Because She's Black

Susan Jones | May 11, 2015 | 7:19am EDT
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(CNSNews.com) - "I had my share of bumps along the way," First Lady Michelle Obama told a predominantly African-American audience at Tuskegee University on Saturday.

Her commencement address was all about racism, although she never used that word.

Mrs. Obama told graduates and their families about the "daily slights" that she and her husband have experienced. She urged graduates to overcome that "heavy burden" by channeling their frustration into "studying and organizing and banding together" -- and voting "in every election at every level, all of the time."

"You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote," she said.

Mrs. Obama also mentioned the frustrations that are playing out in "communities like Baltimore and Ferguson."

"The road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me. Because while we've come so far, the truth is those age-old problems are stubborn, and they haven't fully gone away."

Here's part of what she told the graduates:



The world won’t always see you in those caps and gowns. They won’t know how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed to make it to this day -- the countless hours you spent studying to get this diploma, the multiple jobs you worked to pay for school, the times you had to drive home and take care of your grandma, the evenings you gave up to volunteer at a food bank or organize a campus fundraiser.  They don't know that part of you.

Instead they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.  And my husband and I know how frustrating that experience can be.  We’ve both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives -- the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety; the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores; the people at formal events who assumed we were the “help” -- and those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country.

And I know that these little indignities are obviously nothing compared to what folks across the country are dealing with every single day -- those nagging worries that you’re going to get stopped or pulled over for absolutely no reason; the fear that your job application will be overlooked because of the way your name sounds; the agony of sending your kids to schools that may no longer be separate, but are far from equal; the realization that no matter how far you rise in life, how hard you work to be a good person, a good parent, a good citizen -- for some folks, it will never be enough.  (Applause.)

And all of that is going to be a heavy burden to carry.  It can feel isolating.  It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter -- that you’re like the invisible man that Tuskegee grad Ralph Ellison wrote about all those years ago.  And as we’ve seen over the past few years, those feelings are real.  They’re rooted in decades of structural challenges that have made too many folks feel frustrated and invisible.  And those feelings are playing out in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson and so many others across this country.  (Applause.)  

But, graduates, today, I want to be very clear that those feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up.  (Applause.)  Not an excuse.  They are not an excuse to lose hope.  To succumb to feelings of despair and anger only means that in the end, we lose.

But here’s the thing -- our history provides us with a better story, a better blueprint for how we can win.  It teaches us that when we pull ourselves out of those lowest emotional depths, and we channel our frustrations into studying and organizing and banding together -- then we can build ourselves and our communities up.  We can take on those deep-rooted problems, and together -- together -- we can overcome anything that stands in our way.

And the first thing we have to do is vote.  (Applause.)   Hey, no, not just once in a while.  Not just when my husband or somebody you like is on the ballot.  But in every election at every level, all of the time.  (Applause.)  Because here is the truth -- if you want to have a say in your community, if you truly want the power to control your own destiny, then you’ve got to be involved.  You got to be at the table.  You’ve got to vote, vote, vote, vote.  That’s it; that's the way we move forward. That’s how we make progress for ourselves and for our country.

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