Former first lady Michelle Obama said Tuesday that white Americans are “still running” from minority communities when they move to another neighborhood.
The remarks from Obama came during an appearance at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago in which the former first lady, sitting next to her brother, Craig Robinson, spoke about her upbringing in the city and how her family moved neighborhoods because their mother wanted them to have access to better schools.
“But unbeknownst to us, we grew up in the period — as I write — called ‘white flight.’ That as families like ours, upstanding families like ours … As we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of what our families represented,” Obama said.
“And I always stop there when I talk about this out in the world because, you know, I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us — this family with all the values that you’ve 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 … the families that are coming from other places to try to do better.”
Obama has spoken at length about her upbringing since writing about it in her memoir, “Becoming.” In the book, she writes about how the racial demographics of her childhood neighborhood changed as white families moved away, a phenomenon known as “white flight” in which white people move out of urban and increasingly minority neighborhoods in order to self-segregate.
Later in the event, the former first lady said she “can’t make people not afraid of black people,” adding: “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, just maybe, that work will pick away at the scabs of your discrimination.”
Former President Barack Obama also spoke at the event Tuesday and offered his thoughts on cancel culture, saying people who are always “politically woke” should “get over that quickly.”
“The world is messy, there are ambiguities, people who do really good stuff have flaws,” Obama said.