Michelle Obama: ‘I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us’

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The third Obama Foundation Summit was held in Chicago this week. Ava Duvernay, Dolores Huerta, and Billy Porter were some of the speakers, along with President and Mrs. Obama. Attendees got a look at the designs for the Obama Presidential Center.

The theme this year was “Places Reveal Our Purpose” and Michelle and her brother, Craig Robinson, spoke with Isabel Wilkerson in a session titled “There’s no place like home,” about growing up in Chicago. Michelle didn’t mince words for the white people in attendance, reminding them that they are still participating in white flight:

Former first lady Michelle Obama shared painful memories of growing up in Chicago’s South Side and gave a reminder to white people in attendance at the Obama Foundation Summit on Tuesday: “Y’all were running from us, and you’re still running,” she said.

Obama was talking about the white flight she experienced growing up in a South Side neighborhood. “White flight” is when white people leave increasingly diverse areas in large numbers.

Obama, whose mission was all about fitness during her time in the White House, said she noticed white families packing up their bags and heading for other parts of the city and state of Illinois to be away from black people.

With her brother, New York Knicks executive Craig Robinson, by her side, Obama said their family was doing everything they were supposed to do and sometimes better. “As we moved in, white folks moved out, because they were afraid of what our families represented,” she said during the Chicago event.

Michelle described the shift that happened in her neighborhood as white flight became common:

White flight reduced the city’s capital for schools, infrastructure and other community resources, something Obama noticed when she was growing up. She said she felt a sense of injustice as a child because she could see and feel that people were running from families like hers. She noted that she and her brother had friends of all races when they first moved in.

“There were no gang fights; there were no territorial battles. Yet one by one, they packed their bags, and they ran from us. And they left communities in shambles,” she said during her time of plugging the Obama Presidential Center to be built in Jackson Park, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

[From The Washington Post]

The BBC has some video here. I love that Michelle brought up white flight and made a connection to the reaction by many white people to today’s immigrants. I admit that I hadn’t thought about the parallel, but it’s accurate and worth pointing out, especially to anybody who says that problems that happened “a long time ago” are no longer relevant and can’t teach us anything. They are, they are still happening, and the past is a great teacher.

In the video, you can tell that Michelle is upset by both the memories of this from her childhood and the fact that white flight is still occurring. She’s no-nonsense and doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat this horrendous reality for her audience. Her implicit message, or one of them is, “Get your sh-t together, white people.” In the video, she says, “Artificial things that don’t even touch on the values that people bring to life” are the things that “‘divide countries.” I know people say this all the time, but I really miss having a thoughtful first couple who want to talk seriously about the problems that we are facing as a nation and what we can possibly do about them.

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Yesterday at the #ObamaSummit, I was thrilled to spend time with leaders from the @girlsopportunityalliance community. From Ethiopia to Guatemala to Vietnam, these women and men face different challenges, but they share the same dream: a world where every girl has the chance to pursue her education and fulfill her potential. That’s why they’re working so hard to break boundaries, start new conversations in their communities, and provide crucial support and resources to adolescent girls. I know that it’s difficult, sometimes isolating work, but these remarkable leaders are showing up each day, hoping to make a difference for girls who deserve so much. And after our time together yesterday, I can tell that they’re doing just that. I’m so proud of each of them.

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22 Responses to “Michelle Obama: ‘I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us’”

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  1. HK9 says:

    Just one more reason why I love this woman.

  2. Original Jenns says:

    I love how vocal she’s been able to be since they left the White House. She’s always been honest and true, but she’s been able to be more open as a “private” citizen and I love hearing what she has to say. More please!

  3. Lala11_7 says:

    I grew up in that area that Michelle is talking about…during the same time period…when we moved to the Southeast side of Chicago in 1971…there were SEVERAL White families on our block and in the area…by 1976…the ONLY White family that remained in the WHOLE neighborhood…was the Jensens…who said they didn’t care WHAT…they weren’t leaving….

    And they didn’t…

    And understand this…after “White flight” happens…Cities pretty much stop investing in the neighborhood…letting it fall into hell….THAT is what happens in “the hood”…the property tax dollars/business taxes that are generated in the area…are deployed to White areas…leaving “the hood” desolated….so that it can be used as an example of why “Black folks are criminals…lazy…etc…”

    It’s systematic….

    And I am tired of it….

    • Mignionette says:

      This post really hit me in the feels. I can understand not wanting to live in an area with crime etc but to move away from a happy family neighborhood bc the people next door are brown is just one of the many things I can not understand or reconcile with.

    • Tiffany says:

      I worked with someone who had the same mentality as The Jensens. I remember asking him about that and he said, ‘My neighbors are never the problem.’ He meant that whatever crime or issues that occurred was a outside source so he never questioned it.

    • Anna says:

      I live near there right now and it’s interesting to see how the only thing holding back white folks from taking over in historic Bronzeville is that there are no real restaurants just Popeyes, McDonalds, White Castle. I hate the fact that we can’t find quality food in the area–even the one or two large chain grocery stores are either over-priced, constantly gouging customers, or the fruit and veggies go bad over night–and the continuing effect on Black folks’ health, but part of me is happy because it means that gentrification will be held off just a little while longer…

    • Lillian says:

      Thank you for sharing that (lala11_7)

    • Keessie says:

      This, exactly. I live in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. Have lived there for 20 years and I have seen the decline. Before our latest recession large plans to liven up the neighborhood were out there and plain necessary. Then everything came to a screeching stop. Everyone resembling anything near a white person moved out and the City just stopped caring. And now? There’s more money than ever and they still won’t invest in the neighborhood. So we are now moving too. Our house is too small for our family, there is drug dealers in front of our building. Last year we still had plans to stay. But not anymore.

      At first I was reading this and thought, well, people just don’t want the problems that come with certain neighborhoods, but that’s not it. These are the people that take flight by the smallest sign of something they don’t feel comfortable with and city counsils gladly let that happen. Only to move on to the next failing project focusing on diversity. It’s maddening.

  4. My3cents says:

    Superficial, but that childhood pic is just so cute!

  5. Jaded says:

    God she is so amazing, she states things with such clarity and honesty. I’m glad she and Barack haven’t disappeared from public life and can continue to shine a light on these awful truths.

  6. Sunny says:

    As bad as white flight is in Chicago….St. Louis takes it to a new level.

    Families send their children to private schools because of white flight.

    Families belong to one of the region’s many members-only golf or private clubs so their children spend summer camp and dine year-round with other families that look like them.

    • Kait says:

      We left St Louis for this reason. As white parents of black and brown kids, the racial disparities, open racism, and overall tension was too much.

  7. ME says:

    Oh man this hits home for many. As a POC I actually grew up in a neighborhood that had some mixture. Our neighbors were Jamaican. We were good friends with their kids. The dad was the BEST dad ever. He used to drive us to school sometimes. He passed away a year after my dad and it made me extremely sad. I now live in a mostly White neighborhood. Every time a house sells I hope the family is Black, or Asian, or Middle Eastern…but usually it’s another White family. I’m not saying White people aren’t friendly or anything but it would just be nice to see other faces around here.

  8. BC says:

    Any body know which wig/weave shes rocking here? I want it! She looks beautiful.

    I dont think much has changed in America since MLK. Racism and systemic injustice (#BLM), these issues are still being experienced. Its like the law was put in place but behind closed doors, the racist generation of that day, passed on their racist values. Kids arent born racist. Someone taught someone to hate another person. To run from people of a different colour for no reason and to put in place policies which seek to disempower them, thats racist. And its still going on today. Im wondering for the tenth time today if the word racism is forbidden in the American and British circles nowadays. The British MP went round in circles trying not to utter it in regards to Meghan and here Michelle is calling it out …a bit too neatly.

    Anyway, when is Obamas book coming out?

  9. MattyLove says:

    #michelle2020

  10. ChillyWilly says:

    She speaks THE TRUTH. Also, how cute is Baby Michelle??? Those pig tails! She still has the same smile and life in her eyes!

  11. adastraperaspera says:

    Michelle talks about this in her autobiography “Becoming,” and it’s a devastating history that affected all of us negatively. We now have all the research to support her story.

    This article in particular lays out how the federal government created white suburbia intentionally:

    “After World War II, the Federal Housing Administration (a precursor to HUD) and the Veterans Administration hired builders to mass-produce American suburbs…in order to ease the post-war housing shortage. Builders received federal loans on the explicit condition that homes would not be sold to black homebuyers.”

    https://www.citylab.com/equity/2015/09/how-the-federal-government-built-white-suburbia/403321/

  12. Raina says:

    Valid and sadly, accurate. To think we’re still in that frame of thought I.e. Trumpsters.