President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama opened up recently in an interview with People magazine about their personal experiences with racism in America.
In the interview, replete with anecdotes of their challenges, the first couple said their journey from Chicago’s South Side to the White House has not inoculated them against racial bias and prejudice.
“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” Michelle Obama said, laughing at the assumption that the first family has been largely insulated from coming face-to-face with racism, the magazine writes. “Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.”
Michelle Obama also described a trip to Target as the first lady, when a fellow shopper asked her to grab something from a shelf. Before that, other shoppers had largely ignored her.
“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,” People writes. “These incidents in the Black community, this is the regular course of life. These are the challenges that we still face as a country.”
The Obamas’ comments come after national protests erupted this summer after White police officers killed two unarmed Black men in two separate incidences, including 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, 43, in New York City.
Both point out that while race relations have improved in America over the years, there is still a lot of room to grow.
“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” President Obama told People. “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.”
The interview was not the first time the president has spoken out about race in America in recent months. Earlier this month in an interview with BET, the president said racism is “deeply rooted” in the U.S. and that activists should keep pressing steadily in their demands for reform.