So it was, on the last day of Black History Month, at the sold-out Frank Erwin Center, that the former First Lady Michelle Obama descended upon Austin. It was her latest stop on her worldwide ‘Becoming’ book tour. No better way to go from one month of celebration to another, Women’s History Month.
Rachael Ray moderated the evening and fell flat at times with her overly casual approach. It’s easy to do in my hometown where the city slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”. Ray received audible laughs throughout the audience when she said Austin didn't have -isms. Black women seated separately shook their heads collectively when Ray said, “Austin doesn’t have racism”, and then added how “Austin celebrates diversity”. Many people of color, in particularly Black, would adamantly disagree.
Over the course of two hours Obama took us down memory lane, while wearing a stunning bright orange ensemble from Black owned label Fe Noel. A few video montages played before she joined Ray onstage, showing her rise to prominence from Chicago. They also featured her immediate family, including her brother and mother. Throughout the evening Obama gushed about her daughters and childhood, disappointment in the current administration and spoke candidly about life in the White House.
One of the video clips included her unofficial slogan, “When they go low, we go high”. What’s often lost in the context of what Obama says, you have to read between the lines. As a Black woman who grew up in the South Side of Chicago, then attended Princeton, Obama learned she didn’t have a choice to “go low”. Her predominately white audience could never fully comprehend the nuance of the phrase. The same way many Americans can’t see Obama in their Black female coworkers every day.
I was blessed to grow up with so many Obamas in East Austin. My first exposure to women of her stature was at my childhood church. Eastside Church of Christ had women like Sister Hornsby who blessed you with the best hugs, gave me homemade treats, and introduced me to gardening at a young age. During her time as First Lady, Obama stressed the importance of a healthier lifestyle that included gardening and teaching children to make healthier choices.
“I sobbed for 30 minutes, that day was so hard for so many reasons,” Obama said when reflecting on her last Air Force 1 flight. “To go from the inaugurations we had, that were filled with all of America...to sit on that other stage and see their version of America, it was painful.”
Black women are constantly undermined in our society, from gaslighting us at work, attacks on female athletes to victims of sexual assault. Obama and her family were no exception. Despite it all she remained regal, poised and the mother her daughters needed. As a millennial, the first time I could vote was in the 2008 election. Now, many of my friends have kids of their own and I see the exact same struggle with them. Especially my friends raising Black sons.
“To being misunderstood, to being accused of not being born in this country, to being told you’re not being a patriot, to having your kids attacked, wanting to do the best every day,” said Obama. “We carried a lot, the weight for the first time was whew.”
When Obama exhaled, many women understood that feeling of relief. One woman in the crowd yelled, “Thank You!” as the crowd erupted into a standing ovation.
Black women are consistently the anchors in their communities, her White House wasn’t any different. Her own mother, Marian Robinson, moved into the White House to help raise the girls. Like so many in our community, we have blended families anchored by Black women and many by themselves. Women across the diaspora have an unspoken bond through the sisterhood where we know we’re magic but it’s exhausting. My parents have always been intentional about having strong women in my village. Those same women who are no different than Obama.
After much reflection, the only thing I learned from Obama’s tour stop is the most educated First Lady in history is the rule, not the exception.
Jasmine Baker is a lifelong sports fan who has covered sports for KETR since 2016, under the tutelage of Mark Haslett. She co-hosted and produced the award-winning student show, 'Lions After Dark', and produced online content covering Lion Athletics. As an undergraduate, she began her journalism career writing for the campus newspaper, The East Texan. Jasmine has covered high school basketball playoffs, college and professional sports in the Dallas Metroplex. Her experience has allowed her to be a guest on various sports talk shows, including guest play-by-play with Charlie Chitwood. In the 2018 WNBA season, she covered the Dallas Wings for High Post Hoops.
In February 2018, Jasmine won her first journalism award for covering A&M-Commerce students and their work contributing to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The Austinite grew up playing sports ranging from golf to basketball and made it to the AAU Junior Olympics in the javelin. She loves Dallas, sushi and enjoys sleeping when she can.