Michelle Obama urges youth to make their voices heard not just in the streets but at voting booths.
Obama speaks with Shonda Rhimes for the Summer 2020 edition of Harper’s Bazaar. The former First Lady examines the cultural shift in the U.S. amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the devastation caused by COVID-19.
“I know a lot of folks out there have been confused, or scared, or angry, or just plain overwhelmed,” Obama says. “I’ve got to be honest, I count myself among them. I think we’ve all been there. Our foundation has been shaken.”
“Not just by a pandemic that stole more than 100,000 of our loved ones and sent tens of millions into unemployment, but also by the rumbling of the age-old fault lines of race, class, and power that our country was built on,” she adds. “The heartache and frustration that boiled over after the losses of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others.”
Obama says the deaths of so many Black people “has caused a lot of us to grapple with the very essence of who we are—the kind of people we want to be. But even in that, I find hope.” Adding, “They’ve been learning something that often took previous generations years, or decades, to understand: that life can be unfair. It can be unjust. And more than anything is always uncertain.”
“If you live by foundational truths — like honesty, compassion, decency — and if you channel your frustration into our democracy with your vote and your voice, you can find your true north even in times of crisis,” Obama expresses. “Because of all this upheaval, this generation is learning those lessons faster than folks our age did. They’re learning it together and making their voices heard.”
Obama has been inspired by the unifying force of so many standing up for what they believe is right.
“I couldn’t be more inspired by so much of what I’ve seen,” she shares. “So even while there’s a lot of pain out there, and that pain is very real, that’s something that gives me hope — the hope that this generation will not only learn these lessons earlier than ours ever did but apply them in ways that we never could.”
Although Obama speaks highly about the youth and people of colour, she does not want to dismiss the role of older generations.
“Making progress on these issues isn’t just on the shoulders of young people. It isn’t just on people of colour. It’s up to all of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from,” she tells Rhimes. “We’ve all got to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting out racism and fighting for real justice. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own.”
The Summer 2020 issue of Harper’s Bazaar is available on July 7.