In a new interview on Tuesday, former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke out against “white flight,” claiming that she experience it as a child growing up in the South Side of Chicago and that it remains an issue to this day.
“As families like ours — upstanding families like ours who were doing everything we were supposed to do and better. As we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of what our families represented,” Michelle said while speaking at the Obama Foundation Summit, according to The Washington Examiner.
“I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us … This family, with all the values that you read about, you were running from us. And you’re still running because we’re no different than the immigrant families that are moving in,” Michelle added. “The families that are coming from other places to try to do better. But, because we can so easily wash over who we really were — because of the color of our skin, because of the texture of our hair — that’s what divides countries, artificial things.”
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Michelle went on to say that as someone who grew up with a “sense of justice,” she noticed at a young age that white people were fleeing her neighborhood.
“You know this when you’re young,” she said. “You know when people are running from you.”
Yahoo News reported that Michelle then remembered playing outside as a child with friends named Rachel and Susan.
“There were no gang fights, no territorial battles,” Michelle said. “Yet, one by one, they packed their bags and they ran from us. You could feel people disinvesting in you. You could feel it in the schools—”
“You could feel it in the parks,” interjected Michelle’s brother Craig Robinson, who appeared with her at the summit.
This isn’t the first time Michelle discussed “white flight” publicly, as she also wrote about it extensively in her memoir “Becoming.”
Later on in the talk, Michelle defended the decision her and her husband Barack Obama made to put his presidential in the South Side, which has been a controversial one at times.
“It requires the trust to know that Barack and I wouldn’t bring some crap up into our neighborhood. We just wouldn’t do it,” she said. “Our intent and our purpose is not just for us — I don’t need a library. He doesn’t need a library. But the community needs a gathering place, a place for lifting up young people, a place that is vibrant and alive, that is utilized. And if we have to do it anywhere, we should do it in our hometown.”
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