Read the Full Transcript of TIME’s Conversation With President Obama and Misty Copeland

Read the Full Transcript of TIME’s Conversation With President Obama and Misty Copeland


Maya Rhodan, White House Reporter

The first African American president and the first black principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater have much more in common than their success. Both have risen to the pinnacle of institutions that have historically been led by whites. Both were raised by determined single mothers and born into multi-racial families. And both seek to use their unique positions of power to inspire a generation of kids who may not see a clear path forward toward success.

They have also come to appreciate each other from afar, prompting a rare meeting at the White House on Feb. 29, when they sat down with TIME’s Maya Rhodan for a unusually personal, 30-minute conversation about body image, raising daughters, empowering the young and fighting racial discrimination. “As the father of two daughters, one of the things I’m always looking for are strong women who are out there breaking barriers and doing great stuff,” Obama said after they sat down. “Misty’s a great example of that. Somebody who has entered a field that’s very competitive, where the assumption is that she may not belong.”

By his own admission, President Obama didn’t realize how much social pressure women faced to look and act a certain way when he was younger. “When you’re a dad of two daughters, you notice more,” he said. “And that pressure I think is historically always been harder on African American women than just about any other women.”

Copeland, a member of the President’s advisory Council of Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, said she has embraced her role as a mentor for younger people, especially black women. “I feel like people are looking at me, and it’s my responsibility to do whatever I can to provide opportunities,” Copeland said….

Here is a full transcript of the conversation:

TIME: Well thank you both so much for joining us today. My hope is that this is more of a conversation than an interview. So we’ll just let you guys talk. I’m going to be obviously jumping in with questions. But we want it to be natural and fun. And I want to start off by saying that you guys have a lot more in common than I’m sure a lot of people know. You’re both born into multiracial families, you were raised by single mothers. And you’ve risen to the top of your respective fields as African Americans. Which is pretty notable. But I’m curious, what do you see in each other that you recognize in yourself? Like what is it, and is there a common thread that has allowed you both to succeed?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well first of all, I thought you were going to say that I’m also a really good dancer. (Laughter.)

TIME: I thought about it. I saw you dancing with a 106-year-old. (Laughter.)…

TIME: And you both represent the African American community. As the President of the United States, as a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, do you ever think that – how does race come to play? Do you think that people still treat you differently because of race? Because you’re African American?

COPELAND: 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. 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. And I feel like a lot of it as well is what I’m kind of putting on myself. And this just trying to not get too caught up and too wrapped up and too weighed down with being black and trying to just be the best person and the best dancer that I can be. And work, and work harder than, 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. But 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…

Read the entire transcript here.

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