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Michelle Obama says a white woman 'cut right in front of her' in a line—like she were invisible

The former first lady said the experience was 'telling of how White America views people who are not like them.'

Michelle Obama says a white woman 'cut right in front of her' in a line—like she were invisible
Image Source: Getty/ Michelle Obama In Conversation At The Royal Festival Hall. (Photo by Jack Taylor)

Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 1, 2020. It has since been updated. 

Former first lady Michelle Obama launched a podcast on Spotify, in which she discussed her life in the White House and reflected on her journey. For fans of Obama, the podcast was a welcome treat. In one episode​, she discussed what it was like to be "just a Black woman" in white America with guests Kelly Dibble, Denielle Pemberton-Heard and Dr. Sharon Malone. She described one incident when she was waiting in line to order at a Häagen-Dazs with her two daughters and another Black woman, without any Secret Service present. A white woman cut her off in the line, without a second thought, treating Obama as if she were invisible.



"What the White community doesn’t understand about being a person of color in this nation is that there are daily slights, in our workplaces where people talk over you, or people don’t even see you," she explained, before describing her own personal experience. "We were stopping to get ice cream, and I had told the Secret Service to stand back because we were trying to be normal, trying to go in [to a Häagen-Dazs]... There was a line, and when I’m just a Black woman, I notice that White people don’t even see me. They’re not even looking at me." Pemberton-Heard and both of Obama's daughters, in soccer uniforms, were with the former first lady when this incident took place. She continued to share that a White woman cut right in front of the group to place her order. She said, "A White woman cuts right in front of us to order. Like, she didn’t even see us.  And the girl behind the counter almost took her order. And I had to stand up because I know [Pemberton-Heard] was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna cause a scene with Michelle Obama.'"

Do we really live in a time and age when the most powerful woman in the country has to introduce herself? Well, it appears so. "So I stepped up and I said, Excuse me?'" Obama went on. "I was like, 'You don’t see us four people standing right here, you just jumped in line?'" Apparently, the White woman had no idea that she had just cut Obama off in line. She did not apologize or look her in the eye either.



Obama stated, "All she saw was a Black person, or a group of Black people, or maybe she didn’t even see that, because we were that invisible. I can tell you a number of stories like that, when I’ve been completely incognito, during the eight years in the White House, walking the dogs on the canal... People will come up and pet my dogs, but will not look me in the eye. What White folks don’t understand is, like, that is so telling of how White America views people who are not like them. You know, we don’t exist. And when we do exist, we exist as a threat. And that—that’s exhausting."

If even the Michelle Obama could be treated as if she were invisible, take a moment to reflect on how other Black people, and people of color in general, feel in America today. If you have White privilege and witness an incident like this, but also notice that the person of color does not stand up for themselves, step in. You do not have to be a White savior but you can put your privilege to good use.



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