Michelle Obama opened up about the racism she endured as first lady. It's heartbreaking.

“The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut."

Photo by Kevin Dietsch - Pool/Getty Images.

History will remember Michelle Obama as a bold, resilient, and glass-ceiling-shattering pioneer in the White House. But behind closed doors, Obama silently wrestled with painful, unique hurdles literally no one else on Earth has experienced: being a black first lady of America.

During a candid discussion at the Women's Foundation of Colorado's (WFCO) 30th anniversary fundraiser on July 25, Obama opened up about the eight years of racist attacks she endured as first lady.

When WFCO President and CEO Lauren Casteel asked Obama about which falling glass shard from the ceiling she shattered hurt the most, the former first lady replied that it was the targeted comments — rhetoric referring to her as an "ape" and discussing her body — that were the toughest to shrug off, the Denver Post reported.



“The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut,” Obama said.

“Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won’t see me for what I am because of my skin color.”


Photo by Jason Bahr/Getty Images for The Women's Foundation of Colorado.

While Obama earned relatively high approval ratings among Americans as a whole, she still had to tread through a seemingly unending onslaught of racist dog whistles and overtly bigoted attacks in her eight years as first lady.

There was that eyebrow-raising New Yorker cover depicting her with an Afro and machine gun, the racist (transphobic, misogynistic) comparison to Melania Trump, and the time shortly after taking office that a top Google Images search result for "Michelle Obama" was an image altered so she resembled a monkey.

But the bigotry, however daunting, never kept her from fighting onward.

“I want to live in a world that cares for its women,” Obama said at the fundraiser. “I hope that we can create a world where women are safe. At the core, I want girls to feel safety as they move about the world.”

Obama may no longer be America's first lady, but it's reassuring to know she's still going high — even when they go low.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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