The first lady delivered a powerful, evocative commencement speech at Tuskegee University on Saturday about the daily “sting” of racism, but it’s possible that in her attempt to be inspiring, Obama ended up patronizing her audience. At least that’s what Vox’s Jenée Desmond-Harris seems to think.


Michelle Obama spoke at Tuskegee University’s commencement Saturday, and her remarks are going viral because of their blunt assessment of the racism she said the graduates of the historically black college had faced and would continue to face on a daily basis — and her admission that bigotry and bias have continued to haunt her, even in the White House…The first lady closed by returning to what’s become a predictable “tough love” theme when both she and the president talk to African-American audiences (see, for example, their respective 2013 commencement speeches to Bowie State and Morehouse College). She told the Tuskegee grads that the racism-related barriers the students would face were “not an excuse”…

Obama’s speech Saturday was well-received. But being lectured about personal responsibility, a value that’s clearly not lacking among people who are graduating from college (and who, the evidence would suggest, have not thrown their hands up and given up, and do not plan to), is just another addition to the list of small “daily slights” that come with being black.

It would be refreshing if the type of rare — and important — blunt honesty about prejudice that we heard in Obama’s speech didn’t always have to come with a side of race-specific condescension. Maybe next graduation season.

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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