"When you leave the safety of your home and go out into the street, where being Black is a crime in and of itself, we have all had to learn how to operate outside of our homes with a level of caution and fear," the former first lady said on the season finale of her podcast

By Sean Neumann
September 16, 2020 05:55 PM
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From left: Michelle Obama and brother Craig Robinson in 2012
Alex Wong/Getty

On the season finale of her podcast, Michelle Obama’s older brother, Craig Robinson, recalled for the former first lady and their mom, Marian Robinson, the “heartbreaking” time police officers accused him of stealing his own bike when he was about 10 years old.

“It was terrifying only because I was always taught that the police are your friends and they'll believe the truth,” Craig, now 58, said on Wednesday's episode.

“I was telling them the truth and this guy would not believe me,” said Craig, who previously opened up about the experience in a 2017 interview.

The Robinson family, led by the first lady, spent the episode discussing how they’ve each raised their children and what they’ve learned from one another about the responsibility — including the time Marian stood up to the two Chicago police officers who brought Craig home after accusing him over his bike.

“This guy grabbed my bike and he wouldn't let it go,” Craig said, recalling that the officers were asking him questions to purposefully trip him up. “I was like, ‘Oh you got this all wrong, this is my bike, don't worry, this isn't a stolen bike,’ and he would not believe me."

"I was absolutely heartbroken," he continued, "And I finally said to him, ‘Listen, you can take me to my house and I will prove to you this is my bike.’ “

So the two officers brought Craig back to the Robinsons' house, where Marian was waiting for them at the front gate.

“You know how mom is,” Craig told his sister. “Mom was like, ‘Go in the house.’ You know how when she's ready to talk to somebody, she's like, ‘All right go in the house.’ And all I could think of was: This dude's about to get it.”

Marian, 83, said she confronted the police officers, who were both Black, about why they continued to press Craig about the bike after one of the officers admitted they knew the boy was telling the truth.

“What you did was cancel out a whole lot of things that we had been teaching them,” Marian remembered telling them. “And I think you need to come back here and talk to them and at least admit you made a serious mistake, so that you won't cancel out everything we've been trying to teach our children.”

During the podcast conversation, Craig remembered the incident as both “terrifying” and “heartbreaking,” as Obama added that those harrowing experiences are “such a way of life” for Black youth in the U.S.

“It doesn't matter who you are and what kind of values you have,” Obama, 56, lamented, while bringing up the personal family story during a discussion about ongoing demonstrations against racial injustices prompted by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

“Nobody thinks about the fact that we all come from good families that are trying to teach values," the former first lady said. "But when you leave the safety of your home and go out into the street, where being Black is a crime in and of itself, we have all had to learn how to operate outside of our homes with a level of caution and fear, because you never know.”

Michelle Obama (left) and mom Marian Robinson photographed at the Obamas’ Chicago home on Nov. 2, 2018
Miller Mobley

Elsewhere in the episode, Obama spoke with her older brother, who has four kids, and their mom about their own experiences raising their families.

Marian shared some charming details about her daughter's childhood, including how she said she “learned so much from” both the future first lady and Craig while they spoke each night at dinnertime.

“I always said that our discipline was really just conversation,” Marian said.

Obama said her mom was a “hands-on grandma” when it came to her own daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama, both now in college.

“She loves all of our children way more than either one of us,” Obama joked, remembering how her mother would let the girls stay up late, fall asleep with the television on and build forts out of their grandmother’s furniture.

“This is facts,” Marian said, laughing.

“The best thing to do is play it by ear and that's when you find out, when you have more than one child, they each need something different from a parent,” Marian said, sharing advice about how she raised Obama and her brother, adding later: “I think everyone is smart if their parents think they're smart, treat them as if they're smart and treat them with respect.”