In the episode “Protests and the Pandemic with Michele Norris” of The Michelle Obama Podcast, the former First Lady sits down with award-winning journalist Michele Norris to talk about managing mental health during the pandemic, understanding Black struggle, and the cause of racial discrimination. Michelle recounts her experience with racial misrepresentation as a young Black woman and shares what she’s learned as First Lady.
Read this if...
- You feel overwhelmed by the crises caused by the pandemic
- You want to know about the Black struggle in America
- You have encountered oppression or discrimination
Michele Norris is an award-winning journalist, and the first African-American female host for the evening news program National Public Radio.
the distilld lessons (extended)
It’s difficult to fight for justice and equality during a life-changing pandemic. Due to the current global crisis, we’re all trying to adapt to the new normal and it could come at the expense of fighting for our beliefs. But former First Lady Michelle Obama believes that we can gain wisdom even in our isolation and respective struggles. This wisdom may even lead us to win over injustice.
In this episode of the Michelle Obama Podcast, Michelle sits down with journalist Michele Norris to discuss mental health, understanding the Black struggle, and handling these challenging times.
Here are the key insights, distilld:
1. Have Your Moments
The quarantine, racial strife, and present US administration’s shortcomings have left Michelle dispirited. She admits to dealing with her own kind of low-grade depression. She’s losing sleep, she’s finding it hard to keep to her exercise regimen--her daily schedule has suffered.
Instead of being hard on herself, Michelle leaned into her vulnerability. She took more breaks in the day. She ran fewer miles on the treadmill. She acknowledged that her lack of energy is expected during these difficult times. She saw slowing down as necessary for her to heal from this feeling of low-grade depression.
It’s understandable that we don’t feel like our normal selves during these times. Society as a whole isn’t really coping well with the pandemic. What we can do is to allow ourselves to take a breather and feel what we feel. We should allow ourselves to be sad for however long we need so that we can eventually heal.
Having these moments to ourselves don’t diminish our strength. They are part of the process of becoming stronger to fight another day.
2. Make Time To Just ‘Be’
Even in quarantine, the Obamas are at work. During the day, they pursue their own activities in individual spaces around their home. But every night before dinner, they get together to talk and do a family activity. They have learned to just be. They take the time to unwind and spend time together instead of constantly being on the go.
We’re always chasing after the next thing--the next deadline, next internship, next promotion. These days, it’s hard to continue that same fast pace. We’re limited by the new normal. We’re stressed over the loss of structure caused by the pandemic and economic downturn. We are called now to take this time and just be, instead of trying to hold on to our way of life before.
Michelle suggests that we should recalibrate. We should take this time to re-evaluate our lives and our priorities. When you’re done with work, don’t instantly look for other things to do. In this way, we can learn to unload some of the stresses of our previous way of life and settle into our current slower pace.
Take breaks. Play cards with your family. Connect with friends, or just sit in silence. Make time to just be.
3. Recognize the Inequality
In the present, we can see that that America has made significant efforts in valuing Black lives. However, recent tragedies show that there’s still a long way to go for the US in terms of race relations. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd are just some of the few Black lives who fell victim to police brutality.
Black people continue to be victims of injustice. To this day, there are prisons in America that are full of Black people. Black kids are put in jail for most of their lives over small possessions of drugs. Despite previously electing a Black president, Black people still feel as though they’re not treated equally in neighborhoods, workplaces, and boardrooms.
For Michelle, we can help by recognizing the inequality around us. We should be sensitive to situations that seem to be closed to Black people and question why this is so. We should fight for diversity in our neighborhoods and workplaces. We should have the difficult conversations with our friends and family urging them to be sensitive to the unique struggles of Black people.
4. Be Understanding of Others
Seeking justice for unfair treatment is only right. But for Michelle, we shouldn’t forget that we are dealing with people who may be afraid or in pain. This chaotic time has brought to light how American society is plagued with economic struggles. People are trying to survive, and are prioritizing their own individual survival. They fear that if they’re too kind, too giving, or too forgiving, it might cost them their own survival.
These injustices, the violence, the confusion are basically borne from the natural need to survive and not from innate hate towards other people. We should strive to be understanding of other people. When we realize that we’re all struggling, we begin to understand and empathize with what they may be going through. As we see where others are coming from, we can bridge the divide and work towards a compassionate and just society.
These may sound like grand ambitions, but we have to be ambitious to make a better world. According to Michelle, we shouldn’t just try to get back to normal, we should try to be better. When we all make a concerted effort to be better, we can achieve equality and justice.
For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.