WASHINGTON — He may be president now, but Barack Obama says he’s a black man who has been mistaken for the valet and worries his daughters could face stereotypes.
“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,” Obama told People magazine in an interview out Wednesday. That happened to him, he said.
First lady Michelle Obama said her husband also once was mistaken for a waiter at a black-tie party and asked for coffee. She said even when she went to Target as first lady, a fellow shopper asked her to get something from a shelf.
“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” she said. “Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs.”
The first couple spoke about their experiences with racism amid protests nationwide over the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in State Island, New York. Mrs. Obama said they have long talked to their girls about racism and the issues that have been raised in the wake of the two men’s deaths.
“These conversations aren’t new to us,” she said. “I mean, when you’re raising black kids you have to talk about these issues because they’re real.”
The president said his daughters have grown up in a time of enormous progress and take for granted that it makes no sense to treat someone differently for their race, sexual orientation or disability. He said he and the first lady remind them that prejudices are still there and that they should reflect on any hidden biases they may have, including about themselves as black girls. “We don’t want them to be constrained by any of these stereotypes,” he said.
“So when something like Ferguson or the Trayvon Martin case happens, around the dinner table we’re pointing out to them that too often in our society black boys are still perceived as more dangerous or riskier, they get less benefit of the doubt, and that it will be part of their task, their generation’s task, to continue to try to eradicate some of those old stereotypes,” Obama said.
The president said although racial relations have gotten better, more progress is needed.
“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” 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.”