Michelle Obama on Rooting Out Racism: "We've All Got to Do the Honest, Uncomfortable Work"

Michelle Obama shared with Shonda Rhimes for Harper's Bazaar what gives her hope amid this current time and how to fight "for real justice."

By Samantha Schnurr Jun 22, 2020 9:19 PMTags
Michelle ObamaNHAC NGUYEN/AFP via Getty Images

Michelle Obama has hope in what she has seen and hope in what is still to come. 

As the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement forge ahead simultaneously, "our foundation has been shaken," the former First Lady told acclaimed TV producer Shonda Rhimes in an interview published in the Summer 2020 issue of Harper's Bazaar

In response to Rhimes' question about what gives her hope for the future and whether these current times have revealed anything hopeful, Obama acknowledged, "With everything that's gone on over these past few months, I know a lot of folks out there have been confused, or scared, or angry, or just plain overwhelmed. And I've got to be honest, I count myself among them. I think we've all been there. Our foundation has been shaken—not just by a pandemic that stole more than 100,000 of our loved ones and sent tens of millions into unemployment, but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines of race, class, and power that our country was built on."

She continued, "The heartache and frustration that boiled over after the losses of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others has caused a lot of us to grapple with the very essence of who we are—the kind of people we want to be. But even in that, I find hope."

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The When We All Vote co-chair also pointed out the significant lesson the generation "growing up right now" is facing in these historic times.

"In this tumultuous period, they've been learning something that often took previous generations years, or decades, to understand: that life can be unfair. It can be unjust. And more than anything is always uncertain," she explained. "But if you live by foundational truths—like honesty, compassion, decency—and if you channel your frustration into our democracy with your vote and your voice, you can find your true north even in times of crisis. Because of all this upheaval, this generation is learning those lessons faster than folks our age did. They're learning it together and making their voices heard. And I couldn't be more inspired by so much of what I've seen. So even while there's a lot of pain out there, and that pain is very real, that's something that gives me hope—the hope that this generation will not only learn these lessons earlier than ours ever did, but apply them in ways that we never could." 

However, she pointed out that achieving justice is not the job of any one group of people. "But also let me be clear: Making progress on these issues isn't just on the shoulders of young people. It isn't just on people of color. It's up to all of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from," she told Rhimes. "We've all got to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting out racism and fighting for real justice. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. I hope we all have the strength to take that first step."

For more of Obama's conversation with Rhimes, read the full interview here. The Summer 2020 issue of Harper's Bazaar is available on newsstands July 7.