Sitting front row at Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration and later leaving the White House was an emotional day for Michelle Obama. The former first lady said she “cried for 30 minutes straight” during her and President Obama’s last presidential plane ride.
The “uncontrollable sobbing” was part of how much she held back after eight years as the first Black family in the White House. Michelle revealed “so much” of her voice was kept quiet.
“Because the mission during those eight years was bigger than just my voice. We were the first, hopefully not the only, but the first, and when you’re the first at stuff, especially the first in the biggest spotlight, the world watching you, you don’t want to mess it up, and you wanna make sure that you were representing,” Obama said.
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She shared these thoughts on the debut episode of her The Light Podcast– based on the promotion tour for her latest book, The Light We Carry. Michelle explained the pressure of having no room for error and what’s at risk when a mistake happens.
“You are carrying a tray of other people’s expectations along with you on the journey. One small misstep isn’t just a misstep for you, but it’s a misstep for your family, for your community, for your race, for all of humanity because we don’t often get a second chance,” Michelle said.
She added that the pressure extended to their children. As a result, Michelle says their ‘scandal-free’ years in the White House were a deliberate choice.
“Barack and I have been the firsts and onlys in a number of different rooms and when you are that, you feel like you have to show up, and there is no margin for error. So it was no accident that the administration was scandal-free. It was no accident that our children had to show up right in the world. They carried a burden of making sure they weren’t messy because it wouldn’t have been laughed off. It wouldn’t have been ‘oh it’s youthful,’ it would’ve been some bigger statement about the soul of Black folks.”
Michelle Obama Details Emotions She Felt Watching Trump’s Inauguration
Though they didn’t underestimate the pressure, Michelle says they still found it “exhausting.” So when it was time to tell her goodbyes to the White House and attend Trump’s inauguration, she felt various emotions.
“After the inauguration–and we know whose inauguration we were at–that day was so emotional [for] so many different reasons. We were leaving the home we had been in for eight years, the only home our kids really knew,” Obama said. Adding, “They remembered Chicago, but they had spent more time in the White House than anywhere. So we were saying goodbye to staff and all the people who helped raise them.
“There were tears, there was that emotion. But then to sit on that stage and watch the opposite of what we represented on display–there was no diversity, there was no color on that stage, there was no reflection of the broader sense of America,” Obama shared.
There were discussions of Michelle’s mood at that time, and in the podcast episode, Obama confirmed she “was not” in a good one.
Still, she held it together, she says, and did her walk, wave, and boarded a short flight to a Maryland military base to board their final presidential flight. Obama says she counted her steps for eight years, and now she’s much happier.
“Do not get me wrong, being the first lady of this country was the greatest honor. It was the greatest honor and I took it seriously. I worked my butt off for this nation because I felt like if you’re here for eight years, I wanted to leave and show something…I wanted to touch some lives. I wanted to open that house up, I wanted people flowing through it, I wanted kids to feel like they were a part of that house. So, every event was well-thought out. We included a broader set of communities,” she said.
“I didn’t want a day go by that that house didn’t feel full and loved. So, do not get me wrong, it was a privilege to serve, but it was hard. It was hard on my family, it was hard on my daughters growing up in the spotlight. You just try to make it look easy because you don’t want to seem ungrateful.”