The moderator lauded Michelle Obama for her achievements over the past eight years and touched on the former first lady’s plans, but Tuesday’s conversation also veered into uncomfortable territory.
It was Obama’s largest public appearance since the 2016 election — speaking in front of more than 8,000 people at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s 30th anniversary celebration — and she touched on personal attacks that she faced again and again. Many had the same theme.
“The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut,” Obama said, according to the Denver Post. “Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won’t see me for what I am because of my skin color.”
She added that she wouldn’t pretend the attacks didn’t hurt, because that would give those inflicting the pain a pass, according to the Post.
“We are living with small tiny cuts, and we are bleeding every single day. And we’re still getting up,” she said.
For nearly a decade, Obama, the nation’s first black first lady, absorbed direct and subtle barbs about her race.
She’s been called an “atrocity” as first lady who’s not classy enough — or at least not as classy as her white predecessors. A Washington state mayor said she has a gorilla face. Fox News said she was former president Barack Obama’s “baby mama,” as opposed to his wife and the mother of his children.
And the criticism continued until she was almost out of the White House.
In November, the director of a nonprofit in a small West Virginia Town drew national scorn after calling Obama an “ape in heels.”
As The Washington Post’s Kristine Phillips and Lindsey Bever reported, Pamela Taylor took to Facebook after Donald Trump was elected, sharing her thoughts about the upcoming shift from Obama to Melania Trump as first lady.
“It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified first lady back in the White House,” she wrote. “I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”
After Taylor’s comments went viral, an online petition calling for her to be fired began filling with digital signatures, ultimately logging more than 200,000 of them. Taylor ultimately lost her job.
Despite Tuesday’s detour into dark territory, many of Obama’s comments went high.
She told the audience that she is “a strong woman because of other strong women,” according to statement on WFCO’s website. “You don’t mother alone, you don’t grandparent alone, you don’t struggle alone. You find your community.”
And she stressed the need to be an uplifting force in girls’ lives — and to shower them with positive messages.
“Tell her every day she is smart and capable and lift her up,” Obama said. “For so many people, the role models they follow are right in their backyard. It’s their mothers, teachers, siblings, and their fathers and the men around them who every day can lift them up. Don’t underestimate the power of day-to-day motivation and inspiration in a girl’s life.”