Barack and Michelle Obama say they've been the victims of plenty of racial bias in their everyday lives — even after they moved into the White House — but the indignities they've experienced don't compare to the discrimination that leads to police bias against African Americans.
"Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs," the first lady said in a December 10 interview in the new issue of People magazine.
Apparently, he's even been asked to fetch coffee at a black-tie dinner, and mistaken for a valet — something the president insisted doesn't make him unique in the least. "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," he said.
Michelle recalled that even when she visited a Target store as the first lady, a shopper seemed to assume she was an employee, asking her to reach an item on shelf. Her response: "This isn't anything new."
Seeming to allude to the recent attention to police bias against African-Americans and the protests surrounding the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police officers, the president pointed out that law enforcement bias against black people — the kind that can lead to split-second assumptions — has much more serious consequences than the ones that he and his wife have experienced.
"It's one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala," Obama said. "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."
Obama receives a significant amount of criticism for his often tepid "on the one hand ... on the other hand" remarks about the role of racism in America. If the frank quotes released by People are any indication of his tone in the full interview, that won't be a problem here.