It is with former talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and at the Warner Theater in Washington DC that Michelle Obama, who came to promote her new book, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, returned to her experience as first lady. And said one thing: at that time she had to straighten her hair… to please the American people. And this while the Americans were just “adapting” to the first black family in the White House, she explained.
For the political leader, Americans were “not ready” for her natural hair worn in braids during Barack Obama’s first term, as reported by the Guardian. An explanation that says a lot about the slow development of mentalities. “No, they’re not ready for that,” Michelle Obama would have thought.
Evidence of systemic racism
Furthermore, this election speaks volumes about the sexism and racism that black women can be subject to, and not just in politics. Thus Michelle Obama stated during her conference in the Warner Theater: “Natural hairstyles can be considered less professional, even though it can be easier to style your hair that way”. A prejudice that is part of the many discriminations faced by black women with natural hair and afros, whose cut is considered “neglected”.
For the former first lady, this is a condition shared by all African Americans. This is evidence of systemic racism. Thus, a 2020 study published in the scientific journal Social Psychological and Personality Science already claimed that black women with curly hair would be considered by their potential future employers as “less professional”. This capillary discrimination would even be a brake on hiring.
In addition, Michelle Obama did not want the issue of her hair to occupy the media during her husband’s term and overshadow his policy decisions. Hence the fact of having chosen a smooth and stiff hairstyle, to stifle any debates. She had already noticed that it was enough for “Barack to wear a beige suit” for the press to overmediate the information. Her choice of hairstyle thus reminds us that the intimate is always political.