Politics & Government

A Q&A with Michelle Obama

Joseph Hoskins, left, 17, greets Michelle Obama after her speech to a crowd inside Dreher High in Columbia, South Carolina.
Joseph Hoskins, left, 17, greets Michelle Obama after her speech to a crowd inside Dreher High in Columbia, South Carolina. Gerry Melendez / MCT

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Between campaign appearances for her husband this week in South Carolina, Michelle Obama, 43, a woman, a lawyer, a hospital executive and the mother of girls Malia and Sasha, 9 and 6, sat down for a few questions.

Q: Explain the choice and the issues that black voters are confronting (in whether to support Barack Obama's candidacy) that white voters aren't confronting.

A: People who are oppressed at every turn in their world, they see indications directly or indirectly of what they can't do. You see negative images about yourself on TV. This is what you take in as a person of color. It feeds on that self-doubt — it builds on it and it makes you think that somehow, something must be wrong with me and others like me so that we're not ready, and we're not good enough to be anywhere, let alone running for president of the United States. Folks don't want to be disappointed; they don't want Barack to be emotionally disappointed by what they perceive to be other people who won't accept the possibilities of who he is. Sometimes it's easier not to try at all than to try and fail.

Q: Was this a revelation to you?

A: No, it's my life. It doesn't go away because you reach a certain age or a certain professional standing. That is a part of who you are. I struggle less because I have had exposure to the powers that be; I've sat at the table, as has Barack, with the best of the best. And then you look around and go, "What was the big deal?"

Q: Do you think merely having an African-American president would diminish racism in the country?

A: When I go to Iowa and I stand in front of a small community and I tell them my story and I talk about my dad (who had multiple sclerosis and is deceased) and our values, you know, there is no difference. And the fact that they see me, this tall black woman and they say, "I know her, she is very familiar to me." (It) breaks down barriers and misperceptions that exist because people just don't know each other.

Q: What are some issues, whether they're domestic issues or international, issues that are very important to you or that you just feel are under-discussed?

A: Things haven't evolved completely for men and women in relationships. Women are stuck in this sort of, "OK, I am now working, but there are societal pressures that I still maintain this role." We all have those folks in our lives who are saying, "But this is what a woman does and you're doing something else." So now we're trying to do it all and we're driving ourselves crazy, because something's got to give. That's something that I talk a lot about and what I'd like to talk about in my role as first lady. It's this work-family balance, because this is something I see that cuts across all socioeconomic classes, all races, all political (persuasions). Women in this world are drowning in our situations. I still think women are pretending like, "I can do it all." First, it's to say, "No, you can't, and you're not crazy if you can't." But the other thing, these are domestic agendas. We need decent health care, better schools. We need jobs that pay a living wage.

Q: Who did your husband look to as a role model in becoming a dad since his dad really wasn't around?

A: He had his grandfather, who he grew up with, and his mother's second husband, Lolo. When he was alive and they were together, he was very much a father figure. Like many young kids who don't have fathers in their lives, you look to the men around you.

Q: Do you think that marriages have changed and the role of a spouse is more one of friendship and irreverence?

A: I think obviously marriages have evolved. When I look at my grandparents and how they interacted . . . My grandmother who passed, I'd be in the middle of some case or working on some project, and I'd call Grandma and it'd be Sunday and it'd be my only day off and she'd say, "So, whatcha cooking?" And I'm like, "Mmm, nothing, Grandma. I'm not cooking."

Q: Does your husband cook? I've heard he at least has a chili recipe.

A: I cook, but . . . he can cook. The chili recipe, it's his. I stole it from him. It's lots of good spices and lots of meats and beans. You put lots of cheese on it. He also has this sort of mixed Thai dish — I don't know that recipe. It's got vegetables and chicken and cashews. It's really pretty good.

Q: I read Lauryn Hill is on your iPod?

A: I do love Lauryn Hill. I love Jill Scott. I'm lovin' Beyonce. My girls are loving Beyonce. Believe it or not, we listen to her CD every day going to school. Stevie Wonder is my most favorite anything of everybody. If I'm on a deserted island, I want "Songs in the Key of Life," I want "Innervisions." I want Stevie's albums.

Q: What about (your husband)?

A: Stevie's huge. But he's listening to a little Jay-Z, and he loves jazz — Coltrane, Miles Davis.

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