On this episode of the Michelle Obama Podcast, Michelle talks to women she considers her closest friends. They share their experiences with Black invisibility, balancing motherhood with their careers, and dealing with the pressure that comes with being wives of public figures in American politics.
Read this if…
- You’re a working mother
- You have experience being in the public eye
- You are experiencing discrimination
Denielle Pemberton-Heard is the General Counsel and Managing Director for Diversified Search, a company that deals with identifying and assessing executives and placing them in senior leadership and board roles.
Dr. Sharon Malone is an obstetrics-gynecology specialist and a woman’s health advocate. She has over three decades of experience in the medical field.
Kelly Dibble is the Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations of Washington. She was the former Executive Director for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, and the former Director for the Hyatt Development Corporation.
the distilld lessons (extended)
Everyone can benefit from having someone to watch their backs—even Michelle Obama. She was able to handle the difficulties of motherhood and the pressures of being First Lady thanks to the love and support of her friends.
In this episode of the Michelle Obama Podcast, Michelle talks to women she considers her closest friends: Denielle Pemberton, Dr. Sharon Malone, and Kelly Dibble. They discuss their experiences as Black women, as mothers, and as wives of public figures in American politics.
Here are the distilld lessons inspired by “The Gift of Girlfriends” episode of The Michele Obama Podcast:
1. Black people are not being seen
Michelle recounts the time she took her children to get ice cream after their soccer game. While they were in line, a White woman just cut right in front of them and the person behind the counter almost took her order. Michelle called the lady out and the lady did get back in line but didn’t apologize. She didn’t even bother to look Michelle in the eye.
Denielle Pemberton, a corporate executive and general counsel of a major broadcasting network, had a similar encounter. After a meeting with her team, she went out to a salad restaurant for lunch. As she was standing in line, next to the same team members she just had a meeting with, no one even approached to say hello. They just walked right by her. She said she felt invisible.
Dr. Sharon Malone, a gynecologist and public health figure, sees this problem of Black Invisibility in her white friends in Washington. She says that most of them only have two black friends: her and her husband. This is even after they’ve lived in Washington for thirty years. In most of the parties she went to that was hosted by her white friends, she and her husband would be the only two Black people there.
Black people aren’t being seen—at least not like people that are equally deserving of decency, attention, or recognition as white people are. In a speech Michelle gave to graduates at a historically black college, she said that structural racial challenges in America have made too many Black people feel frustrated and invisible.
Skin color should never be a factor of how we’re treated. Every person, from all walks of life, has unique insights, talents, and personalities that bring value to society. If we focus on those instead of the color of someone’s skin, then we can understand and coexist with each other better.
2. Being a working mother is difficult
Kelly Dibble, the Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations of Washington, became friends with Michelle when they were both pregnant. Kelly recalls the challenges she had to deal with as she balanced motherhood with her career. She had to schedule play dates, organize museum trips and birthday parties, all while serving the District of Washington as a government official.
Dr. Malone remembers feeling inadequate as a mother. Because she’d often get caught up in her career and her advocacy, she couldn’t provide the same attention as other mothers can. She saw other moms who’d bring in cupcakes for the kids’ soccer games and she’d look at herself and see a mom who’s always busy and always forgets things. It made her feel like she was failing at motherhood.
Being a mother and having a career is a demanding combination. They are two entirely separate, but equally important roles. It’s as if they have to work like they have no kids while raising kids like they didn’t have a job.
3. Being married to a public figure comes with a lot of pressure
Michelle had long been acquainted with Dr. Malone before they eventually became friends. When she and Barack were transitioning into the White House, she felt slightly disengaged with the people she was meeting until she met Dr. Malone, the wife of Eric Holder, Attorney General under the Obama administration.
Michelle was immediately drawn to Dr. Malone during their conversation. She saw in her a reflection of herself: a woman fully supportive of her husband but refuses to be overshadowed by his role as a public figure. Michelle said that she saw a woman who wasn’t an accessory to her husband’s political career.
Dr. Malone says that even though she’s managed this supportive but non-subservient role pretty well, it hasn’t been easy for her. She also had to overcome the negative aspects of being the Attorney General’s wife. She had to deal with the criticism thrown at her husband and how it affected him and their children. It was hard for her at times to reconcile the person that she married and the person she saw on the news who was labeled immensely terrible things.
In her memoir, Becoming, Michelle shared her experience about having to go through marriage counseling with Barack. She admitted in her interview on the Tonight Show that she initially went through with it thinking it was only Barrack who needed the work. She realized throughout the sessions that she needed work herself.
Being married to a public figure comes with a lot of pressure. Michelle and Dr. Malone had to find more time and space to be there for their husband as they dealt with the public eye and the demands of their role as leaders. Fortunately, they had each other, and their friends, to hear their woes and help them sort their marriages out.
4. We all need someone we can lean on
Michelle says that a group of good friends provides a lifeline unlike any other. Her friends have witnessed her in her weakest moments and have been there for her in her times of need. She and her friends have built a strong circle of trust, which has only grown stronger through time—reinforced by understanding, patience, and love.
There’s wisdom in what the former First Lady says. It’s because there will come a time in our lives when our problems will be too much to handle alone. That’s when we need friends the most.
In her memoir, Michelle talks about friendships between women. She says that they’re built of a thousand small kindnesses that are constantly swapped back and forth, over and over again. Our friends don’t have to solve our problems. They don’t even need to play an active role in finding the solution. Our friends can keep us strong by just being there to hear our rants, to keep our secrets, or to create the space we need to break down. When we have someone to lean on, and someone to learn from, we can go through the trials we face, and grow into a better version of who we are.
For a shorter conversation, the distilld lessons summary are here.