On Monday evening, Michelle Obama and Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sat at the Southbank Centre to discuss the former first lady’s autobiography, Becoming.
The Royal Festival Hall was packed full for the event which was sold out, leaving a lot of interested participants unable to attend. More than 40,00 people had tried to get tickets online when the event went on sale.
Those lucky enough to grab the much sought after tickets occupied the hall as Ms Adichie asked questions and Ms Obama answered them.
She tackled topics ranging from her parents to her rise to becoming the First Lady of the United States of America. She also recalled how the Queen had dismissed royal protocol as “rubbish” when the Obamas visited Windsor Castle.
Mrs Obama told how her mother “encouraged us to let our voices be heard” and how her parents ensured they didn’t try to put out her light in the way parents are known to do with their daughters.
Ms Obama added:
One of the things my parents believed was that my voice was relevant and my opinions were meaningful and my anger and frustration was real.
My parents saw this flame in me. Instead of doing what we often do to girls who are feisty which is try to put that flame out to douse it because we are worried about them not being lady-like or being bossy. They found a way to keep that flame lit.
To have that flame lit in a girl you need to let that flame speak accordingly and learn how to use it.
While speaking about her family, Ms Obama touched on her working-class upbringing, the difficulties of marriage and even how at times she wanted to “push Barack out a window”. She spoke of her father, Fraser C. Robinson, and how he sacrificed a lot to see that they had all they needed.
Michelle Obama also said she still feels “imposter syndrome”, adding that “it never goes away”.
Asked how she feels about being seen as a “symbol of hope”, Mrs Obama told the live audience:
I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me.
It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.
If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable.
We don’t have any choice but to make sure we elders are giving our young people a reason to hope.
Ms Obama also recalled her and President Barack Obama’s visit to meet the Queen. She said she was panicking about how to act but the Queen said: “Just get in”.
I had all this protocol buzzing in my head and I was like ‘don’t trip down the stairs and don’t touch anybody, whatever you do’.
And so the Queen says ‘just get in, sit wherever’ and she’s telling you one thing and you’re remembering protocol and she says ‘Oh it’s all rubbish, just get in’.
Ms Obama, whose memoir broke sales records to become the best-selling book released this year, just 15 days after being published, described her experience of black women being caricatured, saying:
The size of our hips, our style, our swag, it becomes co-opted but then we are demonised.
My advice to young women in that you have to start by getting those demons out of your head. The questions I ask myself – ‘am I good enough?’ – that haunts us, because the messages that are sent from the time we are little is: maybe you are not, don’t reach too high, don’t talk too loud.
The former first lady said this was true for women and working-class people, and “profound for women of colour”, as people in power tried to make them feel they did not “belong”.
Here is the secret. I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at non-profits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the UN; they are not that smart.
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