“We cannot pretend that kids don’t see when they’re being devalued, because anytime it happened to me as early as kindergarten, I knew it,” Obama told David Letterman in a clip of her podcast entitled Michelle Obama: The Light Podcast. “I knew in second grade that the second-grade teacher thought we were all dumb and not worth it because she didn’t organize the class. She wasn’t giving us homework” and “didn’t think the kids she was teaching were worthy.”
During the episode, the 59-year-old mother of two said that it was her mother who challenged her to begin believing in her voice.
“What happened was my mother went up to that school, and that’s what mothers do — they go up to that school. There were a handful of us who got tested — we were advanced. Not only were we smart, but we were smarter than smart, and we got skipped to the third grade,” the Chicago native said.
She continued: “But there were only three of us. And I thought, what happened to the rest of the kids in that second-grade class that didn’t have a mother who could advocate for them and didn’t have kids who could test out?”
“The world has made me practice liking myself. And that is a tool for young people: You cannot wait for somebody to see you. Because first of all, there are people who don’t even know you exist. They don’t even know your pain. They don’t know your struggle. This just isn’t race. This is if you’re poor, if you live outside in a rural county, if you are not in the best school system, if you are a woman. There are many ways to be othered in this world. And for some of us, when it happens, it breaks us.”
Rather, she said the experience enticed her to do her work on her widely-successful “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity and the “Joining Forces” initiative, which worked to assist military families.
“For me, I just happen to be that smart aleck kid that was like, ‘Oh, I’ll show you. I will show you. You doubt me, I’ll work harder,’” she remarked. “So by the time I got to the White House, I was like, ‘Oh you don’t think I’m gonna be the best first lady that you have ever seen?’ I am going to work so hard.”
“I’m going to launch so many initiatives,” she concluded. “I’m going to be all over the world. You just wait!”