The Obamas Talk About Their Experiences With Racism

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

The Obamas Talk About Their Experiences With Racism

The president and first lady discuss their brushes with racism in People magazine.

Published December 18, 2014

In an interview with People magazine, the president and first lady shared how racism has impacted their lives before and since their ascent to the White House.

First Lady Michelle Obama recalled her infamous trip to a Target store in a Virginia suburb. At the time the news reports focused on how she pushed her own cart like any other shopper and was unrecognized by anyone except a cashier. In the People interview, she offered another perspective.

"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," she said.

Race and racism are topics that some critics say the Obamas have not talked enough about, but in the interview they "candidly added their stories to the national discussion of race and racial profiling that was sparked" by the Michael Brown and Eric Garner tragedies.

The couple also talked about how President Obama has in the past been mistaken for a waiter or valet while a guest at black-tie events. And despite the progress the nation has made on this still-thorny issue, there's much more to be done.

"The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced," the president 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." 

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(Photo: Gilliam Laub/People Magazine)

Written by Joyce Jones


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