Michelle Obama said that Americans “weren’t ready” for her natural hair during Barack Obama’s tenure at the White House.
The former first lady was speaking at the Warner Theatre in Washington DC on Tuesday to promote her new book, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, with the former talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres.
Obama said she decided to straighten her hair as the American people were “just getting adjusted” to having a Black first family, reported the Washington Post.
Though it would have been easier to style her hair in braids, Obama recalled thinking, “Nope, they’re not ready for it,” referring to the American public. Fearing her hair would be used as a distraction and politicized, Obama decided to straighten her hair so the administration could focus on its agenda instead of having to answer racist questions about her hair.
“Let me keep my hair straight,” Obama recalled thinking. “Let’s get healthcare passed.”
She added: “They tripped out when Barack wore a tan suit,” referring to the flack Barack Obama faced for his fashion choice back in 2014. “The great indignity, the scandal of the Obama administration.”
Hairstyles are another hurdle facing Black women in the workplace, Obama went on: natural hairstyles can be criticized as less professional, even if it may be easier to wear one’s hair that way.
“We deal with it – the whole thing about, ‘Do you show up with your natural hair?’” Obama said. “That’s the African American experience …. but women in offices that are worried, ‘Should I wear skirts? Should I wear pantyhose?’ I hate pantyhose.”
The US House of Representatives passed the Crown Act in March, which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyles. The Senate has not passed the measure. Several states and municipalities have passed local versions of the law, including Miami Beach, which passed a ban on hair discrimination last month.