Evy Poumpouras, left, and Michelle Obama.
  • A former secret service agent says she couldn't defend Michelle Obama from racist verbal attacks.
  • Evy Poumpouras said she "could do nothing" when witnessing racist comments.
  • Poumpouras' book, "Becoming Bulletproof," details her time in the secret service.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Former secret service agent Evy Poumpouras says an upsetting part of her previous job was not being able to protect Michelle Obama from racist slurs or signs while on duty.

Poumpouras served on the presidential protective division for Michelle and Barack Obama during their time at the White House. She also protected George W Bush, Bill Clinton, and George HW Bush during her 12 years in the secret service.

Writing in her 2020 memoir, "Becoming Bulletproof," Poumpouras recalled feeling "outraged" when seeing a racist sign directed at the former first lady.

Michelle and Barack Obama campaigning in Iowa in 2012.

"As the first Black First Lady of the United States, Mrs Obama had to withstand certain kinds of disparagement that none of her predecessors ever faced," Poumpouras wrote. "I was on her protective detail when we were driving to a school to deliver a speech; we passed someone on a bridge holding up a shockingly racist sign directed at her."

"I remember feeling outraged - after all, it was part of our job to protect the first family mentally as well as physically. But if the First Lady saw the sign, she gave no indication of it," she added.

Poumpouras said that there was no protocol in place for dealing with verbal or written forms of racism.

"I could do nothing," she said. "There's freedom of speech in the United States, and even if I personally feel that speech is wrong, the law doesn't give me the power to take that person's speech away."

Poumpouras added that the only way she would have been allowed to intervene was if she thought the first lady or President was in danger of being harmed.

"When it came to speech, they could call them names. They could say whatever they wanted so long as there was no imminent threat of harm," she said.

However, the organisers of external events were able to remove members of the public who were "heckling" the first family, according to Poumpouras.

"I could not step in and say, 'Hey, don't say that'," she said. "But the staff could say, 'We don't accept that type of language here. This is our private property. Please leave.' Only then could we someone do something, but as painful as it was, I had to abide by the law."

Michelle Obama previously spoke about her experience with racism as the first lady

Obama detailed her experience with racism at the 30th anniversary of the Women's Foundation of Colorado (WFC) in 2017.

WFCO President and CEO Lauren Casteel asked about which "falling glass shards" cut her the deepest after breaking the glass ceiling of becoming the first Black first lady, The Denver Post reported at the time.

"The shards that cut me deepest were the ones that intended to cut," Obama responded, referencing being compared to an ape, according to the publication. "Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won't see me for what I am because of my skin colour."

More recently, Obama told "CBS This Morning" that she worried about the potential assumptions being made about her daughters, Sasha and Malia, because of their skin colour.

"They're driving. But every time they get in a car by themselves, I worry about what assumption is being made by somebody who doesn't know everything about them," she said in the interview, which aired on Monday. "The fact that they are good students and polite girls. But maybe they're playing their music a little loud. Maybe somebody sees the back of their head and makes an assumption."

Representatives for Michelle Obama did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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