How Michelle Obama Rose Above Racism (And What She Can Teach Women Across the Globe)

Michelle Obama has repeatedly been confronted by racist remarks. But the way she responded teaches a valuable lesson to all women.

Back in 2016, an official in a West Virginia town dubbed Michelle an “ape in heels”. Those racist words came in a Facebook post and triggered a backlash that resulted in the resignation of the town’s mayor.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time Michelle had to deal with racist comments. She learned how to tackle those comments and came out victorious. But it wasn’t easy.

Her first magazine cover portrayed her holding a machine gun and sporting an afro. Of course, Michelle understood the satire, but the drawing got to her nonetheless.

Then, there were names such as “cronies of color” and “Obama’s Baby Mama”, to name but a few. All these remarks made Michelle feel isolated. She had to try to block them to remain sane.

Michelle realised that she needed to remain true to herself and ignore all the commentary, but that’s not all.

During her husband Barack Obama’s time in the office, Michelle started speaking out. Her goal was to help others change their racial prejudice. And she realised that a lot of people held onto the prejudice because they’d never heard a different viewpoint.

At the end of the day, Michelle can teach the world a lot about bravery and standing up to adversity, starting with her most valuable lessons.

What We Can Learn from Michelle Obama

1.   Don’t Let Fear Hold You Back

People who constantly face racism know fear and know it well. And there are times when this racial fear makes them change their habits and lifestyle.

But it’s absolutely critical to battle the fear. You need to refuse to allow the fear to challenge your ambition or goals.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can completely remove fear from your life. It’s natural that some fear will always be there.

However, Michelle believes that your capacity to work through fear and learn to live with it is the key to success.

Michelle grew up in a neighbourhood where fear could have left her stuck at home. People who face racism may fear going out. They could be afraid of getting stopped by the police.

But is that the life you’d want to lead?

Of course not, and neither did Michelle. She plucked up the courage to venture out and face the world.

Ultimately, her bravery was one of the main driving forces behind her success. And there’s no reason you can’t do the same.

2.   Embrace Uncertainty

Uncertainty will always be there, and sometimes there’s very little you can do to make things more certain. But you mustn’t let this discourage you from pursuing what you want.

There was a point where Michelle chose to pursue her passion and get out for her law career. Indeed, she wanted to do that but the uncertainty of the move paralysed her.

Like most people who stood in the face of uncertainty, Michelle had many doubts.

After all, when she decided to leave her law career, she still had her student loan and hadn’t bought a house yet. To add fuel to the fire, her mother’s advice of making money before worrying about happiness kept echoing in Michelle’s head.

But her one burning desire made her anxiety worse. Michelle wanted children and she didn’t want to wait until her new career took off to have them.

Luckily, Michelle had Barack, whose supporting advice was invaluable. He reassured Michelle to take the plunge and stop worrying about the uncertainty.

Just think about it; uncertainty won’t kill you. And this is true even if the outcome isn’t as exceptional as you expect it to be.

3.   Take Care of Yourself

The Obamas struggled to conceive, but when they finally had them, Michelle did most of the parenting. As a state senator at the time, Barack had to commute to Springfield from Chicago to do the work.

The setup left Michelle completely exhausted and resulted in marital tensions. But she didn’t hesitate to seek professional help, which is when the couple started marriage counselling.

However, counselling didn’t turn out the way Michelle wanted.

She thought the counsellor would just tell her husband what to do and that would be it. Instead, Michelle experienced a major turning point in her life as she redefined what happiness meant to her.

Before marriage counselling, Michelle relied on her husband to make her happy. But after, she realised that she was responsible for her own happiness.

As a result, Michelle redefined her priorities. She understood that it was unfair to get angry with her husband just because his priorities in life were different.

Also, she learned how to find time for the activities that were important to her, including getting enough rest.

4.   If You Want Something, Ask for It

Others can’t read your mind, nor do you want them to assume what are your desires. That’s why you need to be open and ask for whatever you want.

But there’s a really interesting yet simple story about Barack and Michelle that explains the principle.

There was a time when Barack had to move from Chicago to complete his law degree at Harvard. Like a lot of men, he wasn’t a fan of phone calls, but Michelle was resolute about changing that.

Knowing that the distance could seriously affect their relationship, she urged Barack to become comfortable with lengthy calls. She took things a step further and threatened that she’d have to find another man if Barack didn’t listen.

Sure, while she wasn’t exactly serious, it goes to show how resolute and determined Michelle was. Yes, there was a little risk in her demand, but the reward far outweighed the risk.

5.   Share Your Story

Sharing her story had a vital role in Michelle’s battle against racism. She got so good at it that some people described her book tour as attending an inspiring concert.

The main point that Michelle relayed was about what truly connects us.

It’s not the race, political party, or any other identity. According to Michelle, “the stories that we remember” are the genuine connection between people. This is why you should never be afraid to share your story.

It doesn’t have to be an exclusive or ground-breaking story either.

Michelle believes in the importance of the stories that you share with friends, family, or colleagues over a meal, as they represent your values and relationships with other people.

In many ways, the stories that you and others share are memories. And if you’re able to connect with those memories and allow others to join in, you’ll truly connect with people.

It would be difficult for others to understand how hurtful racist comments are unless they heard from Michelle. Knowing her side of the story made others think twice before making a remark, even the comical sort.

Rising Above

The main lesson to take away here is staying true to yourself. And yes, there’ll always be those who want to challenge your integrity, but this doesn’t mean you should back off.

You shouldn’t let fear overpower you even when you’re not sure how your decisions may affect your life. As long as you know what makes you happy, you should pursue it.

However, it’s important not to let yourself down in the process. To avoid that, you should figure out your priorities and find some time for yourself.

If you like what you’ve read so far, feel free to check out my speaking services. You’ll discover plenty of practical tips for women leaders.