Michelle Obama rakes up racism, recalls her younger days when white families 'fled' black neighborhoods

The former first lady said she experienced the 'white flight' phenomenon as a kid and conceded that it still remains an issue.

                            Michelle Obama rakes up racism, recalls her younger days when white families 'fled' black neighborhoods
Michelle Obama (Getty Images)

It's been almost three years that she has left the White House, but former first lady Michelle Obama is never too far from the headlines. On Tuesday, October 29, Michelle, a widely admired personality for her talks and charity, was present at the third annual Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago where she spoke against “white flight”.

The presidency of Barack Obama, her husband, between 2009 and 2017 had, among others, reignited the cultural debate of black versus white and Michelle’s touching words against racism that she had experienced at a younger age was bound to bring the focus back on the topic, especially at a time when the country finds itself deeply divided.

Michelle said she experienced the “white flight” phenomenon as a kid and conceded that it still remains an issue. 

"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," the 55-year-old said, recalling her formative years in Chicago's South Side that was home to many young black children. But as the black families moved in, the white ones started moving out and it gave a young Michelle a less-than-happy feeling.

"I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us... This family, with all the values that you read about, you were running from us. And you’re still running because we’re no different than the immigrant families that are moving in," she said. 

"The families that are coming from other places to try to do better. But, because we can so easily wash over who we really were — because of the color of our skin, because of the texture of our hair — that’s what divides countries, artificial things."

In this Oct. 31, 2017 file photo, former President Barack Obama, right, and former first lady Michelle Obama appear at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago. The couple's production company is teaming up with Spotify to produce exclusive podcasts for the platform. Under the Higher Ground partnership announced Thursday, June 6, 2019, the former president and first lady will develop and lend their voices to select podcasts on wide-ranging topics to connect with listeners around the world. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Michelle, who was born in Chicago to Fraser Robinson, a city-pump operator, and Marian Shields Robinson, who gave up her job to raise Michelle and her elder brother Craig, said she grew up with a “sense of injustice” and learned it at a young age that white people were leaving her neighborhood. She also spoke about the issue in his 2018 bestseller 'Becoming'. 

Michelle, in a tone of sympathy with immigrants who are looked down upon in the US of President Donald Trump, said her family was no different from the immigrant families that were trying to make a shelter for themselves in the US. Amid a cheer from the crowd, she also referred to Pilsen in her hometown where many Mexican immigrants have settled in. 

'We were a part of creating history and a lot of people walked away from it'

“We were a part of creating... history, and a lot of people walked away from it, they disinvested. One by one, they packed their bags and they ran from us, and they left communities in shambles,” Michelle, who was accompanied by Craig on the stage, added.

“There were no gang fights, there were no territorial battles but one by one they packed their bags and they ran from us.”
Michelle also said the whites were fleeing despite the fact that the neighborhood was multi-cultural and that children across all races were friends. 

“You know when people are running from you. '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,” the former first lady said, adding that their parents had instilled in them a set of beliefs that had helped them counter the discrimination that they experienced.

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