Once Upon a Time, Our FLOTUS Was Black

by Mariah Williams

My niece, who is just a baby, will be too young to remember her. And my cousins, even though they would have seen this confident figure stand before them on television, will not know what the first Black First Lady truly meant or who she was. I will not let them forget. I will remind them when they are older that once in the White House lived a confident and proud Black family – a Black man, a Black woman and their two little girls who transformed into two beautiful young women. I will tell them about the 8 years of hope, of what it felt like to look on TV and see someone who looked like us in the highest seat of power in the United States. I will remind them why this matters. I will tell them the history of our people, of tattered, beaten and broken down bodies, of the mental, physical and psychological pain inflicted upon us for centuries. I will remind them that there are people who do not want us to tap into our greatness, people who see our black, brown and beige hues and view us as inferior, as less than, as ignorant and unworthy of the freedoms and luxuries this world has to offer. I will tell them that while their history books may only speak of us as slaves and sufferers, we are in fact a great and triumphant people. That we are strong, persistent, relentless, passionate, sympathetic, intelligent, intellectual. We are beautiful. I will tell them to always remember this, no matter what the world says. No matter who they are told to be. I will remind them of the giants that came before them, including Michelle, in all of her grace and beauty, in all of her confidence and magic. My little cousins and niece will know that the impossible is possible, that little black and brown girls like them can be bold and loud and have their voices heard. That they can do anything they set their minds to. That they are boundless. I will tell them why this matters and that some people view women as inferior, as less than. I will tell them that there are people who see us as subservient, who believe that we should reside in just the corner of the room, that we should not have a seat at the table, that a chair should not even be made available to us. I will tell them that the color of their skin complicates this, that their fight will be twice as hard. That negative stereotypes about who we are have pervaded every inch of society and that at times it will be difficult to escape this. But, I will remind them to be encouraged by the women who came before them. By Michelle. Harriet. Angela. Zora. Maya. bell. Alice. Coretta. Assata. Chimimanda. I will tell them so they do not forget, so that when their teachers teach them the history of this country, they know that folks that look like them are rooted in, around and through all of it. So that when they learn about Lincoln and George, they also learn about Obama. So that when they learn about Nancy and Hilary, they also learn about Michelle. I will make sure they never forget what they are capable of, of what they can be, and I will tell them, “once upon a time, y'all, our FLOTUS was Black and she was magical.”

Mariah Williams is currently pursuing her Masters in Urban and Regional Planning at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the founder of Black Girls Meet Up, an organization dedicated to creating spaces for the being of Black women and girls. She aspires to become an urban planner who advocates for affordable housing and inclusive communities for people of color.