Margaret Eby
December 17, 2014 3:07 pm

You might think that being the President of the United States would ensure a life devoid of racist encounters, but as Barack and Michelle Obama told People Magazine, being the most powerful couple in the country does not make them exempt from racism.

“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” Michelle Obama told the magazine. “Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.”

She elaborated on casual everyday racism by recalling a recent, highly-photographed trip she took to Target.

“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.”

The President agreed with his wife, remembering a time he was mistaken for a valet. “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.”

The First Lady offered another anecdote saying of the President, “He was wearing a tuxedo at a black tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

The moments recounted by the President and First Lady point to a casual racism that has yet to be eradicated from daily American life. People still see skin color and people still make judgements based upon that skin color — and this is not just in reference to the deadly encounters we’ve seen unfold as of late. This is also in peaceful, simple daily life when a black person is still far too often immediately identified as the help.

But despite these incidents of casual racism, the President thinks things are getting better.

“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” he 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.”

It certainly makes you think.

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