Apparently, wearing the presidential cloak doesn’t protect you from racial microaggressions.
In a revealing interview with People Magazine, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama detailed their own experiences with race, proving that respectability politics and a tuxedo aren’t going to save you from being threatening or overlooked.
“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” the first lady told PEOPLE, laughing wryly, along with her husband, at the assumption that the first family has been largely insulated from coming face-to-face with racism.
“Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs,” Mrs. Obama said.
But it didn’t stop — even in the White House. The First Lady detailed a trip she took to Target, during which a woman asked her to get something off the shelf.
“I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her. Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.”
Obama followed up:
“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” said the president, adding that, yes, it had happened to him.
Mrs. Obama recalled another incident: “He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”
During the 30-minute conversation on racism, the Obamas also turned to the national conversation on racial profiling sparked by the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown Jr. — two black and unarmed males killed by police officers.
“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” President Obama said. “It’s one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It’s another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress.”
Check out their interview in the newest issue of People, on stands Friday.
SOURCE: PEOPLE | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty