Michelle Obama: Talk About Race

Lucy McCalmont, Politico, May 16, 2014

Marking the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, First Lady Michelle Obama said on Friday that racial and other prejudices still plague the nation and she called on young people to lead the way forward.

“This issue is so sensitive, it’s so complicated, so bound up with a painful history,” Obama told soon-to-be graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kansas–the city that was at the center of the Supreme Court’s decision. “No matter what you do, the point is to never be afraid to talk about these issues, particularly the issue of race, because even today, we still struggle to do that.”

She added, “We know that today in America, too many folks are still stopped on the street because of the color of their skin, or they’re made to feel unwelcome because of where they come from, or they’re bullied because of who they love.”


Commending the students for their achievements, Obama said they would be “unimaginable back in 1954,” when schools, restaurants and movie theaters were segregated.


The first lady stressed the diversity the students have been able to experience because of the court’s ruling, saying “that was the hope and dream of Brown.”


Obama called on the graduates to “drag” older generations to change their viewpoints on diversity, pointing to two recent examples, including a 2013 Cheerio’s commercial that featured a biracial couple and their child.

“When some folks got all worked up about a cereal commercial with an interracial family, you all were probably thinking, ‘Really, what’s the problem with that?’” Obama said to applause.

“When folks made a big deal about Jason Collins and Michael Sam coming out as gay a lot of kids in your generation thought, ‘What’s the issue here?’” she said and was also met with applause.


“We need all of you to ask the hard questions and have the honest conversations because that is the only way we will heal the wounds of the past and move forward to a better future,” Obama said, who prior to her speech visited the Brown vs. Board of Ed National Historic Site.


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