Michelle Obama talks racism and white flight: ‘I can’t make people not afraid of black people’

While her husband Barack Obama’s criticism of cancel culture during the Obama Foundation Summit on Tuesday is making waves, former first lady Michelle Obama took the opportunity to address issues of race at the Chicago conference.

The 55-year-old joined older brother Craig Robinson and author Isabel Wilkerson for a frank discussion on racism and white flight, drawing on her experiences of growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Obama, who wrote about her neighborhood’s changing demographics in the memoir Becoming, spoke out about white families leaving as more black families moved in, an exodus she says “left communities in shambles.”

Former first lady Michelle Obama addressed racism and white flight during the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“There were no gang fights, there were no territorial battles,” she said. “Yet one by one, they packed their bags and they ran from us. And they left communities in shambles.

“We were doing everything we were supposed to do — and better,” she added. “But when we moved in, white families moved out ... I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us. And you’re still running.”

The former FLOTUS also compared her experience to that of immigrants, telling the audience, “We’re no different than the immigrant families that are moving in, families that are coming from other places to try to do better.”

Obama joined brother Craig Robinson and journalist Isabel Wilkerson for her event at the conference. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

She also spoke of pushing past people’s prejudices, whether as a teen applying to Princeton or as the first black first lady.

"I can't make people not afraid of black people,” she said. “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, doing wonderful things, loving my family, loving your kids, taking care of things that I care [about] ... Maybe, just maybe, that work will pick away at the scabs of your discrimination. Maybe that will slowly unravel it.”

She went on to describe those with racial bias as “broken,” telling the crowd that “you can’t fix” that “brokenness.”

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