President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama recently shared their own experiences with racism amid ongoing racial unrest in the U.S.
Last month, a St. Louis grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown divided the nation and reignited heated debates about race relations.
Tensions were heightened and violent protests broke out earlier this month following a Staten Island, New York grand jury's controversial decision not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner and the Obamas acknowledged that racism is indeed still a prevalent issue in the U.S. while recalling their own racist ordeals.
"I think people forget that we've lived in the White House for six years … Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the south side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs," Mrs. Obama told People magazine on Dec. 10.
President Obama, a former Illinois Senator, made history in 2008 when he was elected as the first African American President. In 2012 the Harvard Law graduate was re-elected after beating Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney, which resulted in some critics arguing that his victory is proof of a post-racial America.
Like many African American men, President Obama has had his fair share of racist encounters and Mrs. Obama recalled a time when the father of two was mistaken for being a waiter at a high-end gala.
"He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee," she said with President Obama adding that he was also once 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."
Mrs. Obama recalled a time when she was mistaken for a Target worker by a customer who needed assistance.
"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," she said. "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 first couple acknowledged that while there has been progress in improving race relations in the U.S. There is still work to be done.
"The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced," President 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."