President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama spoke out about their experiences with racial bias in an interview with People Magazine that was published Wednesday.
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“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,” the president told the magazine, acknowledging that he, too, has experienced the stereotype.
The first lady recalled another occasion when her husband was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner “and somebody asked him to get coffee.”
Before Barack Obama became president, Michelle Obama told People, he was a black man living in the South Side of Chicago, and “had his share of troubles catching cabs.”
“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.”
The Obamas’ comments came amid national tension over the recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. In Cleveland, an officer fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice on Nov. 22 for holding what was later found to be a toy “airsoft” gun. The use of force by police also set off unrest and protests in many communities around the country. Thousands of demonstrators continue to call for changes to policing and law enforcement regulations.
Both Obamas agreed in the People interview that race relations have improved in the country, but that they expect future progress to continue.