Oct 29, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Michelle Obama addresses "white flight" and discrimination in U.S.

Former first lady Michelle Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation Summit at Illinois Institute of Technology on October 29, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.

Former first lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Obama Foundation Summit at llinois Institute of Technology in Chicago Tuesday. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former first lady Michelle Obama drew from her childhood experience of "white flight" in the 1970s South Side of Chicago to highlight discrimination immigrant families now face in the U.S. at the Obama Foundation Summit in the city Tuesday.

I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us, and you’re still running. Because we’re no different from the immigrant families that are moving in today."

The big picture: Obama made the comments as she appeared with her brother, Craig Robinson, in a wide-ranging discussion with author Isabel Wilkerson, noting that being the first black first family gave America and the world the opportunity "to see the truth of who we are as black people, as other; that we are just as, and often times better than, many of the people who doubt us."

  • In her book, Obama outlines her firsthand experience of the changing demographics in the South Side of Chicago, known as "white flight."
  • She details seeing white families moving out of the urban area as black families moved in — and how the "mere suggestion of it" caused "stable, middle-class families to bail preemptively for the suburbs, worried their property values would drop. 'Ghetto' signaled that a place was both black and hopeless."

Background: Obama has spoken previously about her personal experience of racism, including after becoming America's first black first lady. She writes in her bestselling memoir "Becoming" how she knew she wouldn't get the same "grace" assigned to her white counterparts previously in her role.

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