President Barack Obama and Ballerina Misty Copeland Talk Race in New Video
Barack Obama made history when he became the 44th president of the United States, while Misty Copeland forever changed what it means to be a prima ballerina when she became American Ballet Theatre's first African American principal dancer. In a new Time video, the two trailblazers talk about the racial discrimination they still face — and that the struggle is still all too real for many black Americans.
President Obama begins the video by giving a nod to Copeland, who "entered a field that’s very competitive — where the assumptions are that she may not belong — and through sheer force of will and determination and incredible talent and hard work she was able to arrive at the pinnacle of her field," he says.
Copeland too admits it wasn't easy trying to ascend to the highest position in her company as a black ballerina. "You know, my experience has been that a lot of what I’ve experienced has not always been to my face, or it's been very subtle," she describes. "But it’s in a way that I know what’s going on and I feel it deep inside of me. And I — being the only African American in almost every environment in terms of classical ballet — it weighs on you and it wears on you after a while."
Copeland says she tries to not get caught up in being black and instead focuses her energy on working harder, being better. "Even if I see the person next to me that things may be a little bit easier for them, I'm going to try and push myself even harder than them," she says. I think that being African American has definitely been a huge obstacle for me. But it’s also allowed me to have this fire inside of me that I don't know if I would have or have had if I weren't in this field."
From the time she was a young girl, Copeland says her mother warned her that being biracial could impede her ballet career. "She made it very clear to me that yes, you’re Italian and you're German and you are black, but you are going to be viewed by the world and by society as a black woman and you should be prepared for that," Copeland says. "It doesn't matter if you’re a ballet dancer, if you're an attorney, whatever it is you’re trying to do, you're going to be faced with these obstacles."
President Obama says while many people thought his presidency would shift racial views and subdue racial tension throughout the country, he never believed it could. "I remember people talking about how somehow this was going to solve all of our racial problems, and I wasn't one of those who subscribed to that notion," Obama says.
Rather, he says, "My view is that the strength of having been a minority on the receiving end of discrimination is that it should make you that much more attuned toward anybody who is vulnerable — and that includes being concerned with the struggles whites have in this society." After all, he points out, "when you look at how social change has happened throughout history, including in our country, it's been because we can project ourselves into the circumstances of other people."
Both President Obama and his wife, Michelle, try to impress upon their two daughters that racism and racial discrimination persists. "What I try to always transmit to my kids is that issues of race, discrimination, tragic history of slavery and Jim Crow, all those things are real," he says. "You have to understand them and be knowledgeable about them. And recognize that they didn’t stop overnight. Certainly not just when I was elected."
You can read the full transcript of the revealing interview here.
More From Glamour:
• Ballerina Misty Copeland On Breaking Barriers and Loving Her Strong Body
• Here's How You Can Help the 106-Year-Old Woman Who Danced When She Met the Obamas
• Filming Ballerina Misty Copeland: Filmmaker Lily Baldwin
• Misty Copeland Is Officially the First African American Principal Dancer at American Ballet
Photo Credit: White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans/Twitter