On Michelle Obama’s recent visit to Denver, the former first lady made an inspiring speech in front of an audience of 8,500. Though the speech itself was not recorded, the Denver Post reported that Obama’s speech contained poignant comments about her experiences as the first black woman in the Oval Office. Her message was largely one of optimism and determination. One attendee pointed out that Obama broke a glass ceiling by becoming the first black first lady. When the audience member asked which shards of glass cut the deepest, Obama responded that she was most affected by those that “intended to cut.” She was referring to those who demeaned her throughout her eight years of public service solely because of her color.
In the past, critics have targeted Obama in distinctly racist ways. One West Virginia county employee made the news after her Facebook post calling Obama an “ape in heels” went viral. Obama’s speech referenced this incident, along with other critics who made fun of her figure and otherwise refused to take her seriously. Obama’s speech focused on the importance of owning the resulting scars and speaking out about them to fellow women. To pretend that it doesn’t hurt, she said, would allow those who cause pain to ignore the consequences of their actions. Obama was adamant about serving as an example to the next generation of young women.
Though the wounds from those cuts hurt deeply, Obama said, they do heal with time. Nonetheless, they must not be forgotten. Acknowledging those scars encourages young women, like Obama’s teenage daughters, to feel validated and emboldened as they receive their own first cuts. Obama encouraged women not to wait for national policies in order to find empowerment. She warned the audience against falling victim to a sense of hopelessness or pessimism, urging women to instead fight to protect themselves and their communities regardless of what national leaders are doing. “The people in this country are universally good,” Obama said. “Don’t be afraid of the country you live in.”