Former first lady Michelle Obama took part in a virtual commencement address this week, using the forum to tell graduating college seniors to “focus” their anger on securing real societal change.
She delivered the remarks as part of YouTube’s Dear Class of 2020, which also included addresses by former President Barack Obama and celebrities including Lady Gaga.
Michelle Obama aimed a portion of her speech at those young people enraged over the death of George Floyd and “the lines of race and power that are now, once again, so nakedly exposed for all of us to grapple with.”
Asserting that some would seek to silence them or otherwise prevent their expression of that anger, she encouraged them to speak out anyway.
“So, don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you that you’re too angry, or that you ‘should keep your mouth shut,'” Obama said. “There will always be those who want to keep you silent, to have you be seen but not heard, or maybe they don’t even want to see you at all. But those people don’t know your story, and if you listen to them, then nothing will ever change.”
She noted that civil rights leaders throughout American history expressed their anger in response to systemic injustices she identified as still present in today’s society.
“Dr. King was angry,” Obama said. “Sojourner Truth was angry. Lucretia Mott, Cesar Chavez, the folks at Stonewall — they were all angry.”
“Scourge of bigotry and sexism”
In his remarks, Barack Obama said that the ongoing turmoil in the streets across America is the product of “decades worth of anguish, frustration, over unequal treatment and a failure to perform police practice.”
While the Obamas’ remarks obviously resonated among many Americans more ideologically aligned with their position, some supporters of President Donald Trump are concerned that the previous president is overstepping his role. In addition to the recent commencement address, Barack Obama has hosted a virtual town hall and penned a column outlining his suggestions for police reform.
When he addressed the current administration’s handling of the coronavirus earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Obama of being “classless” and asserted that he “should have kept his mouth shut.”
“In a lot of ways, the pandemic just brought into focus problems that have been growing for a very long time,” Barack Obama said in his latest address. “Whether it’s widening economic inequality, the lack of basic health care for millions of people, the continuing scourge of bigotry and sexism, or the division or dysfunction that plagued our political system.”
As the former president becomes more outspoken and the former first lady encourages Americans to act on their anger, some voters are likely going to see their rhetoric as a thinly veiled effort to influence the 2020 election.