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Michelle Obama on the toll of racism and sexism: “Small, tiny cuts ... every single day”

The first black first lady talks about her time in the White House.

Michelle Obama addresses the Democratic National Convention
Michelle Obama addresses the Democratic National Convention
Getty Images

Michelle Obama has opened up about what it was like to deal with racism while living and working in the White House.

While her husband gets most of the credit for breaking political glass ceilings, Obama was a trailblazer in her own right as the first black first lady. Speaking to her time in the White House, Obama revealed that the role opened her up to criticism that often veered into full-on racist insults. In short, punching through all those glass ceilings came at an emotional price.

“The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut,” she told a crowd. “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.”

Obama specifically referenced how racially charged attacks — like ones that called her an ape and focused on her body — personally hurt her.

It’s a surprising reveal considering how much the Obama family had, during their time in the White House, focused on maintaining poise and positivity. Obama’s speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention highlighted this approach, as she told the audience, “Our motto is: when they go low, we go high.”

The decision to speak publicly about her feelings and experiences was, Obama said, an effort to remind people they are accountable for their language and actions.

“Women, we endure those cuts in so many ways that we don’t even notice we’re cut,” she said. “We are living with small, tiny cuts, and we are bleeding every single day.”

Obama made her remarks at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s 30th anniversary event at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the very place where her husband accepted his nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008.

Unsurprisingly, Obama turned her candid comments into a call to empowerment. According to the Denver Post, she went on to tell event attendees that despite how deeply those cuts hurt, they go on to heal, and that women who own those wounds and scars can help younger girls who are in the midst of their first cuts.

Speaking directly to younger women, Obama told audience members to not “despair in your teenage years, even if you’re bullied. The best is yet to come. I’m living my best years in my 50s.”

In true Obama fashion, she also spoke to the heart and spirit of not just women but the country as a whole, encouraging Americans not to give up on their nation despite the current polarizing political climate.

“The people in this country are universally good and kind and honest and decent,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of the country you live in. The folks here are good.”