Before Michelle Obama released her bestselling memoir, Becoming, she promised it would be a candid look into her life as a black woman. And when the book hit bookstores last year, it quickly rocketed up the charts to become one of the bestselling books of all time. One reason for Michelle Obama’s book’s success was that she told it like it was and revealed the everyday struggle that black women and other women of color face every day just because of the way they look and the color of their skin.
During an appearance at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago, Michelle Obama discussed the concept of “white flight.” This occurs when white people move out of a neighborhood because people of color are moving into it. Michelle Obama’s family moved to the South Side of Chicago in the 1970s, and that’s what she started noticing that “white folks moved out.” The simple reason for the “white flight,” as Michelle Obama saw it growing up in a location where it was happening, was “because they were afraid of what our families represented.”
Because Michelle Obama dealt with the direct condescension of the white families that abandoned their neighborhood because families of color moved in, she sees a parallel to what immigrant families are dealing with today in Trump’s America.
“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. I always stop there when I talk about this out in the world because I want to remind white folks, ya’ll were running from us. This family. This family, with all the values you read about, you were running from us,” she said at the summit on Tuesday, October 29.
Obama talked about the neighborhood of Pilsen, which is located in Chicago. That area is now home to a large Mexican population. Because Michelle Obama’s family was looking for a good life when she was a child, they sought out a neighborhood that would be a positive influence on her. But “artificial things” like the color of people’s skin spread fear throughout the community and caused “white flight” from the area.
“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. There were no gang fights, there were no territorial battles, but one by one, they packed their bags, and they ran from us,” said Obama.
Famously, Michelle Obama said: “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 … Just maybe that work will pick away at the scabs of your discrimination.”