The Michelle Obama Podcast: 10 Takeaways From The First Episode On Racism, Family & Country
Michelle Obama released the first episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast and we can’t keep calm! The Former First Lady of the United States has, on several occasions, proved herself as an icon of inspiration for women across the world, with her emancipatory views. Now with the release of her podcast, she has given us yet another reason to fangirl over her. The show will follow a guest format, with a new guest – friend, relative, colleague – talking to her every episode. In the first one, she converses with her husband, 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama about an exhaustive range of things that matter in life – from family, to origins, respect for the country, and of course, love.
In a world where we’re used to listening to our world leaders addressing us from atop a pedestal and behind a microphone, Michelle Obama’s podcast makes for a refreshing listen. It is candid, informal, and in characteristic Obama style, oozes with suavity. That the magnetic couple’s oratory skills are par excellence is the icing on the cake. The podcast maintains a comfortable pace, easy to follow. From the get-go, they manage to elicit laughter from the listener, and from there, one eases into their conversations.
(Pro tip: Sprawl out on the bed, plug in your earphones, and close your eyes to transport yourself to the Obamas’ living room.)
The first episode, simply titled President Barack Obama, was a fine balance between profound and light topics, and in the 48:57 minute duration, the Obamas managed to educate, entertain, and impress altogether. Here are the 10 best moments from the podcast:
1. Going Back To The Beginning
Both Obamas hail from humble middle-class backgrounds, and stress upon the differences in their upbringing, giving the listeners a peek into the trajectory of their lives. President Obama tells us, “I was raised mostly by a single mom and my grandparents until we then moved to Indonesia and I had a step-father and then Maya, my sister, was born. And then I moved back to Hawaii.”
Michelle says her family of four used to live “on the second floor of my great-aunt’s house because that was a way to save money…we lived small.” Her dad’s “city job” was the only thing that paid for their expenses.
2. Dogs, Staircases, and Dreams
With a chuckle, the Obamas recall how Michelle’s mother wouldn’t let her have a dog when she was younger. Now she says “I got revenge. I’ve got two of them,” expressing a desire of owning a few more if it weren’t for her husband.
And she says she dreamed of living in a house with stairs like the ones she saw in American sitcoms The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. But living off basic finances, she says her family wasn’t in a position to fulfil this dream of hers. When her father later bought a house in the city by putting all his “money into a mortgage,” the family had to sacrifice going on vacations. In this scenario, he told her, “…who cares about stairs?”
3. Community Parenting
They go on to discuss the value of community parenting, where neighbours and friends filled in as “extended families. Structures around that helped families raise their kids in a loving environment.” This would be a concept familiar to people in India where local communities and joint families play important roles socially – sometimes even using that liberty to poke a nose in other people’s businesses.
President Obama remembering his youthful days, says, “everybody raised everybody’s kids.” Michelle agrees with him, affirming, “So, there wasn’t this feeling that you were supposed to do this thing called loving and supporting your family on your own. And it wasn’t just up to that parent to provide that stability and that love.”
4. Racism Against Black People
In 2009 when Barack Obama won the elections, the Obamas became the first African-American Presidential couple to move into the White House. However, their Black identity formed an important part of their background and youth, when they had to face rampant racism.
Michelle explains that white people were racist in the suburbs, which is why her father preferred that the family stay in the city. “We had had incidents of going into the suburbs… that were all white… somebody scratched my father’s car because we were Black folks in a neighborhood.” These conversations become unavoidable in the podcast, especially in light of the recent Black Lives Matter uprising and George Floyd, who they mention later.
5. Valuing Friendships
President Obama recalls that due to his lack of an extended joint family, “friendships became really important… all of us were from broken homes. All of us were working-class… We had to share and improvise.” So he and his friends slept at each others’ places, with their families taking care of each other. “We built our own community.”
6. Falling In Love With Barack Obama
Michelle begins, “You know that at the core of everything you have done politically, what I know about you as a person and one of the reasons why I fell in love with you is…” and President Obama interrupts her saying, “It wasn’t just my looks… but that’s okay…” – friendly banter that makes one giggle as an acquaintance sitting with them would. She proceeds to call him “cute,” but adds, “One of the reasons I fell in love with you is because you are guided by the principle that we are each other’s brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”
7. Leaving Law For Community Service
Michelle Obama has a background in law, but she said, “working on the 47th floor in that fancy law firm making all that money… it felt lonely…isolating.” And so she made the courageous leap of leaving corporate law to go into community service. To the young people who ask her about this, she says, “the truth is it was selfish. I was happier” being in the midst of the grit and actively helping out people in the neighbourhoods. “I never looked back.”
8. Ice Cream and Satisfaction
Talking again about their family backgrounds, the Obamas recall how they had just enough during childhood, but never more than enough. Between laughs, Michelle says, “The phrase that sticks with me from my parents is ‘Never Enough…Never Enough.’ Because the minute you had a little bit of something, you know you had a pint ice cream and a chocolate and you asked for strawberry? You’d get in trouble.” Oof, haven’t we all been there?
They talk about how being satisfied with what you have is an exercise that comes with conscious practice as we try to refrain from comparing ourselves with others. Whether it’s about ice cream or about how much money we’re earning.
9. You Don’t Need To Have It All
Contrary to popular opinion that deems it important for people to “have it all,” the Obamas stress on the fact that it’s not important for success “Cause if you have it all, that meant that someone didn’t have anything.” They feel teaching young people to “have a career” and “earn a lot of money” creates space for “cut-throat competition.”
This kind of “dog-eat-dog” world shouldn’t exist, because it goes on to reflect in politics and everything else. The anxiety of competition persists for everyone, but we must learn the art of sacrifice and move forward together.
10. Building An Inclusive Society
President Obama talks about how people must “re-embrace those values” from the 1950s and 70s to have a more peaceful and inclusive world. “If you go back to that basic insight, and just widen it and take the blinders of racism, sexism, homophobia… All those things off. And say really our tribe is everybody.” Michelle agrees, saying “…how beautiful and safe…stabilising that would be.”
She closes the podcast, saying that these topics for them are dinner table conversations – yet another display of the Obamas’ intellect compared to ours that inspire us to fight over the TV remote during dinner. She ends on a motivational note saying that everyone, especially young people, should build lives as “we,” in a selfless manner, because “it’s more fun.”
Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.