Speaking on her eponymous podcast on an episode titled, “The Gift Of Girlfriends,” former First Lady Michelle Obama stated that white people either don’t acknowledge black people exist, or they see them as a threat.
Prior to those comments, Obama and her guests, including Denielle Pemberton-Heard, the CEO of STEMconnector, briefly discussed the incident in Central Park in Manhattan last May in which a white woman named Amy Cooper walking her dog wound up calling the cops on a black man, Christian Cooper, who was birdwatching, an incident which was explained cogently by Robert George in the New York Daily News. George, who is black, assigned some blame to both sides in the incident.
Michelle Obama, whose memoir “Becoming” was reported in November 2019 to have sold over 11.5 million copies, making it one of the best selling memoirs of all time, stated, “That incident in Central Park, which infuriated all of us, as we watched it, it was not unfamiliar. This is what the white community doesn’t understand about being a person of color in this nation, is that there are daily slights — in our workplaces, where people talk over you, or people don’t even see you.”
“Denielle and I, when the girls were little, this is when I was First Lady,” Obama continued. “I am Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States of America, and we had just finished taking the girls to a soccer game, we were stopping to get ice cream, and I had told the Secret Service to stand back because we were trying to be normal, trying to go in. It was Haagen-Daaz, wasn’t it?”
Pemberton-Heard: “Exactly. Haagen-Daaz.”
Obama: “And there was a line, and once again, when I am just a black woman, I notice that white people don’t even see me. They’re not even looking at me. So I’m standing there with two little black girls, another black female adult, they’re in soccer uniforms, and a white woman cuts right in front of us to order. Like she didn’t even see us. And the girl behind the counter almost took her order. And I had to stand up, ’cause I know Danielle is like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna cause a scene with Michelle Obama.’”
Pemberton: “That’s exactly right; it was like, mm-hm.”
Obama concluded, “So I stepped up, and I said, ‘Excuse me?’ I was like, ‘You don’t see us four people standing right here, you just jumped in line?’ She didn’t apologize; she never looked me in my eye; she didn’t know it was me. All she saw was a black person, or a group of black people, or maybe she didn’t even see that because we were that invisible. I can tell you a number of stories like that when I’ve been completely incognito, during the eight years in the White House, walking the dogs on the canal, people will come up and pet my dogs but will not look me in the eye. They don’t know it’s me. What white folks don’t understand, it’s like, that is so telling of how white America views people who are not like them. You know, we don’t exist. And when we do exist, we exist as a threat. And that, that’s exhausting.”