Michelle Obama says she had to ease nation into a first lady with Black hair: 'Let me keep my hair straight. Let’s get health care passed'
(The Hill) — Michelle Obama says she intentionally waited until she left the White House to finally wear her hair in braids, suggesting that the country was “just getting adjusted” to a Black woman as first lady.
“They ain’t ready for it!” Obama told Ellen DeGeneres on Tuesday as she kicked off a nationwide book tour in Washington to promote her new self-help book and memoir “The Light We Carry.”
“The code of ethics at a workplace, as Black women, we deal with it, the whole thing about do you show up with your natural hair?” Obama said.
“Braids, ya’ll!” Obama exclaimed to applause from the sold-out crowd as she motioned to her hairstyle.
“We gotta ease up on the people,” Obama quipped about how she wore her hair while living in the executive mansion.
“They tripped out when Barack wore a tan suit,” Obama continued, referring to the then-president’s 2014 sartorial choice that quickly became a viral sensation.
“The great indignity, the scandal of the Obama administration,” the former first lady said with a laugh.
Dramatizing what she imagined the reaction would’ve been if she debuted braids while in the White House, Obama took on the tone of her critics and said, “Remember when she wore braids? Those are terrorist braids! Those are revolutionary braids!”
“Let me keep my hair straight,” Obama continued. “Let’s get health care passed.”
Obama said she’d sometimes tease her team by mentioning a desire to switch up her look.
“I would get my staff all worried, too. I was like, ‘I was thinking about getting braids,’” Obama chuckled as she stroked her hair.
“That’s the African American experience,” Obama said, “but women in offices that are worried, ‘Should I wear skirts? Should I wear pantyhose?’ I hate pantyhose.”
“But when you’re carrying all this other stuff, this mask, these differences and you’re trying to do your job, it’s just an extra burden on overcoming,” she told DeGeneres.
Obama’s appearance at the Warner Theatre coincided with former President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday in Florida that he was launching a 2024 White House bid. No mention was made of Trump by name at the event, but Obama did reflect on the “painful” experience of his 2016 victory.
“You don’t want to make this personal, but as I write in the book, it hurt. It hurt because it — you wonder was it a rebuke of the eight years, the sacrifice we made? Was it complacency? What was it?” Obama, 58, said.
“We sacrificed a lot to make that set of changes and because not enough people voted, that was that.”
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Obama said, “You’re looking at the world and you’re looking at the world literally fall apart before your very eyes. And for us, it was particularly painful because we knew this would happen.”
“I mean, if you — if you guys recall, I said, ‘Don’t vote for this guy.”
“I have to say, and I should have listened to you, I regret voting for him,” DeGeneres, an outspoken Trump critic, deadpanned. “I thought he was a good guy,” DeGeneres joked.
Saying while she didn’t want to “talk too much politics,” Obama told the audience, “The truth is, we have a vested interest in making sure that more people feel seen.”
“That more people feel like they have a stake in what’s going on. People need jobs, they need housing, they need to feel like they can get ahead, they need to feel like they have a stake in this world and then they won’t tear it apart,” she said.
“They won’t tear it apart with racism, or with violence, or with crime because it’s theirs.”