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People in power, at UN, are not that smart: Michelle Obama

At the launch of her memoir, ‘Becoming’ (Penguin), Michelle Obama said people in power do a lot of things to keep their seats. Their ideas are no more exciting. They don’t solve problems any better.

world Updated: Dec 04, 2018 23:51 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Michelle Obama,Memoir,Barack Obama
Michelle Obama acknowledges the crowd during her visit to the UK to publicise her memoir Becoming, at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Monday. (AP)

After eight years in the White House as the first lady and attending various high-level events during the presidentship of her husband, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama let out a secret on Monday evening: people at the top are “not that smart”.

A sell-out audience in the Royal Festival Hall gave her something of a rock-star reception at an event to mark the London launch of her memoir, ‘Becoming’ (Penguin). Over 40,000 people tried to get tickets for the hall that accommodates about 2,700 people.

Billed as ‘An evening with Michelle Obama’, the event was marked by much wit, humour and frankness about her upbringing (“we discussed sex at the dinner table”), and issues such as ‘demons’ in her mind about not being good enough, her informal encounter with Queen Elizabeth, and marital problems (“trying to melt two lives together, that is hard”).

In conversation with noted Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Obama, who turns 55 in January, spoke of life lessons, the “art of re-invention” and insisted that she is “not here yet”, much remains to be done, which explains the title of her memoir, Becoming.

Asked for advice to young black women on navigating life, she said: “It’s still hard out there… We are demonised, we are too loud, we are too everything. I experienced that. Just having an opinion, how dare I have a voice and use it? It is a threat not just to white men but to women.”

“Some of my first pricks came from women journalists who accused me of emasculating my husband… You have to start by getting those demons out of your head. The question I ask myself is, am I good enough. That haunts. It is set from the time we are little.”

“Here’s the secret. I’ve been at every powerful table that you can think of. I have worked in non-profits. I have been in foundations, corporations, I’ve served on corporate boards, I’ve been at summits, I’ve sat in at the UN. They are not that smart.”

After a prolonged applause, she added: “They do a lot of things to keep their seats; they do not want to share their power. And that makes you feel that you don’t belong. I am not saying that there are no talented people out there.”

“But I am here to tell you that their ideas are no more exciting. They don’t solve problems any better. There is still a lot of brokenness in the hands of people in power who make us feel that we don’t belong. They haven’t fixed it yet because they need our voices to make that happen.”

Obama recalled the challenges her husband faced before being elected president but did not dwell on life under the current president, Donald Trump, except to say that she is “hopeful. Change is not a straight line”.

“We mistakenly thought that Barack Obama was going to erase hundreds of years of history in eight years; that’s ridiculous. We are putting down markers and we make progress. Going back doesn’t mean that progress wasn’t real.”

“It just means that it is just hard what we are trying to do, which is to shift culture. We are trying to overcome hundreds of years of racism and segregation borne out of slavery.”

Recalling one of her first trips to London as the first lady, Obama said it was “incredibly irritating” that British journalists, including women journalists, focused on what she was wearing rather than on the work she was trying to do.

Obama recalled many protocol briefings before meeting Queen Elizabeth during a state visit, when the latter, driving her car, picked them up from their helicopter at Windsor and told them: “Sit wherever … it’s all rubbish, just get in.”

First Published: Dec 04, 2018 16:51 IST