On Friday, former first lady Michelle Obama talked about race and the pressures she and former President Barack Obama faced as the first African-American couple to occupy the White House. Obama was speaking with Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden at the American Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans, ahead of the release of her memoir, Becoming, in November.
“There was no time to reflect in eight years,” Obama said, when asked about her upcoming book. “We did so much, so fast. We also knew we didn’t have the luxury to make mistakes.”
Obama went on: “Barack and I knew very early that we would be measured by a different yardstick. Making mistakes was not an option for us. Not that we didn’t make mistakes, but we had to be good — no, we had to be outstanding — at everything we did.”
The pressure to be a good role model was there throughout that time in the spotlight. “When you’re operating at that level and to live up to the expectation of your ancestors, of your father, When you’re the first, you’re the one that’s laying the red carpet down for others to follow,” she said.
You can watch her entire interview below, via NBC News:
The former first lady also talked about the racism and judgment that plagued her time in the White House. The Chicago-native said it was “a shame” that some people saw her color first, and how sometimes, that was the only thing they saw.
“It’s just a shame that sometimes people will see me, and they will only see my color, and then they’ll make certain judgments about that,” she said. “That’s dangerous for us to dehumanize each other in that way. We are all just people.”
Obama has talked about her experience in dealing with racism before. In a 2015 commencement address to Tuskegee University, she told students how she was described as one of her husband’s “cronies of color” and was once called “Obama’s Baby Mama.” In July 2016, conservative host Rush Limbaugh said Obama needed to get over slavery. “They love to wax eloquent about the early days and how they were 3/5 of a person, even though they never have been 3/5 of a person. [Barack Obama] doesn’t even have any slave blood. She does, but he doesn’t, but they will admit they’re never going to let it go,” Limbaugh said.
In New Orleans, Obama also shared excerpts of her upcoming memoir to the crowd of approximately 8,000 people, according to The Associated Press.
As her husband’s political star rose, she told the crowd that she had to find a new “balance” in their relationship. “As Barack’s ascent got faster and higher, I had to figure out and balance marriage and balance becoming a spouse. I’ve learned that you can have it all, but not all at the same time,” she said.
The former first lady also urged the mothers and fathers in the audience to “build a village” for their parenting. “You weren’t meant to parent in isolation,” Obama said. “It truly takes a village to raise children. Build your village wherever you are. It will be your salvation and keep you sane.”
Obama’s parents, Marian and Fraser Robinson, were deeply influential in building Obama’s parenting village. (Marian Robinson moved to the White House to help out with her two daughters.)
“My parents had a strong sense of how to parent and taught us at an early age to figure it out,” Obama told the crowd. “They let us know, that as children, our opinions mattered. But they encouraged us to contribute to the solution. You could air it out, but you had to be the one to solve whatever it was.”
Especially during her time in the White House, Obama recalled the advice of her parents in difficult moments. “When I go throughout my day, I often ask myself, ‘Am I doing what I think Marian and Fraser would expect me to do?'” she said.