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‘No Margin for Error’: Why Michelle Obama Cried Uncontrollably After Leaving the White House, And It Wasn’t Because of Trump

Former first lady Michelle Obama said she broke down in tears after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, but it wasn’t because she didn’t want to leave the White House or was concerned about the new president’s racial rhetoric’s impact on the nation.

Obama said her tears spurred from the pressure of being the first Black presidential family and knowing that any mistake she, her children, or her husband made would not be measured with the same stick as their counterparts.

“We were the first, hopefully not the only, but we were the first,” Obama said. “When you’re the first at stuff, especially the first in the biggest spotlight, the world watching you, you don’t want to mess it up. You want to make sure that you are representing.”

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 13: Michelle Obama walks onstage during The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times – in Conversation with Michelle Obama at YouTube Theater on December 13, 2022, in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for ABA)

While many tend to argue that Trump was the firebrand that ignited ordinary white people who felt left out and ignored by elite politicians, the former reality star actually capitalized on the racism that was awakened when a Black man held the highest position in the country, Commander In Chief.

“When those doors (of Air Force One) shut, I cried for 30 minutes straight, uncontrollable sobbing, because that’s how much we were holding it together for eight years without really being able to show it all,” Obama said on a March 7 episode of her new podcast.

During her husband’s time as president, the Chicago native was picked apart for how she wore her hair, dressed, and looked, like any other first lady, but she was subject to criticism often reserved for Black women. She was pegged as aggressive, and some critics even suggested that the Princeton University and Harvard Law graduate either slept her way to the top or got there through affirmative action.

On the first episode, Obama’s The Light Podcast,” she was interviewed by “Today Show’s” Hoda Kotb. The former first lady told Kotb she had to “quiet some much of herself” “because the mission during those eight years was bigger than just my voice.”

Obama said it was “no accident” that her husband’s administration was “scandal-free” and that her children “carried a burden of making sure they weren’t messy.”

According to Obama, her daughters, who were 8 and 10 when Barrack Obama first became president, did not have the luxury of appearing innocent. She pointed out that her family not only had to worry about the negative stereotype but the weight of being representatives of current and future Black Americans.

“When you are the first or an only, you are carrying a tray of other people’s expectations along with you on the journey. One small misstep isn’t just a misstep for you, but it’s a misstep for your family, for your community, for your race, for all of humanity, because we don’t often get a second chance,” she said. “Barack and I have been the first and only in a number of different rooms, and when you are that, you feel like you have to show up and there is no margin for error.”

American society has proven time and time to be less forgiving of Black leaders’ faux pas despite centuries of indecent and unlawful behavior by white men in the same roles.

Imagine if the first Black president was involved in a sexual scandal like Bill Clinton or the endless controversies that Trump has been connected to. What if Michelle Obama was a former lingerie model who had risqué photos circulating on the internet?

After the Obamas took their last walk through the White House before their final exit, the former first lady said some of the emotion also came from leaving behind the family home they lived in for nearly a decade.

Still, she did acknowledge that Trump’s inauguration meant there would be no more diversity or color in the official residence of the president.

Years later, it appears that expectations of deficiency alone may not have existed during the Trump era, and it’s not just about white privilege. It was the catalyst that racist white folks needed for them to get through the post-Obama era.

Although Obama is grateful to no longer carry the weight of being the nation’s first lady, she made it clear that it was an honor to be in the role.

“It was the greatest honor of my life, and I took it seriously. I worked my butt off for this nation,” she said  “But being outside of politics and outside of the divisiveness of our politics is just a better place.”

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