Michelle Obama Talks Racial Prejudice: First Lady Was Once Mistaken For A Target Employee


Even as The First Family, the Obamas aren’t immune to racial prejudice. President and First Lady Obama told People magazine about some of the prejudice that they have faced.

The Obamas sat down with People magazine to discuss the racial prejudice that they have faced,

“I think people forget that we’ve lived in the White House for six years,” the first lady told PEOPLE, laughing wryly, along with her husband, at the assumption that the first family has been largely insulated from coming face-to-face with racism.

“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 said in the Dec. 10 interview appearing in the new issue of PEOPLE.

“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. 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.”

As a private citizen President Obama has been mistaken for a valet and waiter. The president also discussed his inability to get a taxi to pick him up. None of the Obamas’ stories are surprising to African-Americans in this country. Racial prejudice is a fact of life. African-Americans, along with every non-white male group, face prejudice every single day. Often the prejudice is slight, but it is there. It doesn’t matter how rich or how powerful a person becomes. Prejudice never completely goes away.

Racial and gender prejudice is a part of American culture. Republicans have successfully used racial prejudice as a weapon against President Obama for years. The sad thing is that it was easy for the president’s political critics to do. No one in this country would have mistaken Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush for a Target employee when they each were First Lady, but this is the sort of prejudice that the Obama has had to deal with daily since they moved into the White House.

No one is completely immune from prejudice, not even, Barack and Michelle Obama.

37 Replies to “Michelle Obama Talks Racial Prejudice: First Lady Was Once Mistaken For A Target Employee”

  1. I admit I might have asked any tall person to help me get it down. Such requests are often prefaced by, “Excuse me, I’m short…”

  2. It is really unfortunate that more whites don’t even attempt to understand what it is like to be black in America without becoming defensive. To do so might just begin to open the lines of communication and move America closer to a mutually respectful relationship. Your stance will forever shut the door to a true post-racial society.

  3. I am a white female who can speak to how people stereotype categories of people even based on gender. Male nurses were highly respected assumed to be doctors. I have been treated like I am an idiot by some males at Home Depot. I live in the south and have witnessed intense hatred of black people by those evidently raised to never be seen with black people including shouting the N word at them in a professional setting. I equate racism to intense hatred and aversion accompanied by saying any untruth or applying all manipulative persuasions to marginalized and ostracize a race or group of people.

  4. Whites started the racism, it is up to them to resolve it. It will never happen because whites are in denial and racism has benefited them in this country since the first Europeans landed on these shores. And let’s not leave out white guilt. That’s the whole purpose of wanting to rewrite American history regarding African-Americans.They know slavery was wrong, but, instead of acknowledging it, prefer to lesson their guilt by proclaiming how happy slaves were. If they were happy, why were they trying to escape?

    The shopper in Target only saw Michelle’s color. This shows not only the shoppers racism, it shows her stupidity! All employees employed in the service industry wear outfits with the store name emblazed on the shirt with a name tag of the employee.
    What I am puzzled about is why the POTUS is catching taxi cabs!

  5. Hey Downvoters! WTF are you downvoting here. I see with every article’s “This is not for me” box and these innocuous comments you silent, anonymous, nay-saying ninjas hit every one, whatever subject, with a downvote. Who TF are you? Why don’t you speak up and be part of the conversation instead of your petty sniping? Or are you incapable of carrying on a logical and polite conversation? Go ahead, explain yourselves, please.

  6. “The shopper in Target only saw Michelle’s color.”

    I doubt that. In case you haven’t noticed the First Lady is taller than the average female. The shopper probably just glanced at her face without registering that it was the First Lady. I, myself, have asked someone to reach up and get something for me because I couldn’t reach the item and I didn’t want to wander all over the store looking for a person in uniform. I have also been asked to help someone shorter than myself. I think, in this case, you are showing your own prejudice.

    As the POTUS, he does not take cabs. That was when he was living in Chicago, on the South Side. Go back and read the article.

  7. You know, some people seem to think Obama was safe from stuff like this because his mother was white, as if that was obvious by looking at him, and no doubt would have made him a bigger target for bigotry if certain people knew.

  8. And I’m always asked when shopping to reach up for something for someone. Its really no big deal, as I’m 5′ 10″ tall, just one inch shorter than Michelle Obama~! [WINK]

  9. First off, racism definitely happens all the time in America. Michelle Obama being mistaken for a Target employee is not racist (especially if she was wearing a red shirt at the time). I (as a 30-something caucasian male) have been mistaken for a store employee several times. Usually it’s when I’m wearing a polo or a button down shirt… and I’m guessing the first lady was dressed nice that day, as she often is. Just last week I was in Sam’s Club pushing a half full cart around and a gentleman came up to me asking if we had soy sauce.

    Has Michelle Obama faced racism? Yes. Is this case racist? No.

  10. Ms Rodriguez U are definitely wrong. What are U implying? The Obama’s have faced so much racism that I don’t how U could miss it unless U don’t want to admit it.

  11. why should my comment be moderated this is a ignorance of America today they do not know what racism is so they call everything being a racist thing.

  12. If a gay person or lesbian “looks” like they are homosexual, they will see, hear and feel bigotry in a second. Blacks are not the only ones to be targeted. Transgender people are targets as well. Hatred in any form is appalling.

  13. I was going to say exactly the same thing. I don’t differentiate between black or white or brown, man or woman — the first one to get near what I need, if they’re at least 6 inches taller than me, I ask for their help.

  14. Reply to Patricia Rodriguez at 12:17 pm

    In case you haven’t noticed the First Lady is taller than the average female.

    Yep. Without a doubt…..

    … unadulterated heightism.

  15. Give me a break! I don’t doubt that Michelle O’Bama has faced racism, but this truly shows that there is a disconnect between what is racist and what isn’t. I am white and I have been mistaken as a retail employee several times! Why would that be racist? Get over it – this is not racist, it is hyper-sensitivity.

  16. You have got to be kidding me. White people created racism. Racism has been a part of culture throughout time. If you don’t think that Black people can be racist or any other culture can be racist then you have a lot to learn. If you are in Hawaii and get called a Howlie it’s, in Mexico a white person might get called a Gringo, etc.

    And I was once told By a black person that “All White people are racist” and black people can’t be racist. To which many other of the black people on the multi cultural panel tried to explain to her how ‘racist’ that remark was.

    As for her remark that being mistaken for a Target employee was racist, well her assumption that it was because she was black is a ‘racist’ assumption on her part. Also, it’s totally possible the person asked for her help because she is tall and nothing more.

  17. I live in a mostly White neighborhood. When I go shopping I rarely see a Black person. People often walk up to me and ask me questions about where something is or ask me questions like they think I work there. I sometimes tell them to ask an employee and they say, Oh you don’t work here or Oh I thought you worked here. It happens a lot.

  18. The First Lady at Target.


    I believe she “dressed down” quite intentionally with hopes of not being recognized.
    No one remembers when Mrs. Obama told the story about her trip to Target years ago on Letterman?

    As the audience laughed, she went on, “And the only thing she said — I reached up, ’cause she was short, and I reached up, pulled it down — she said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to make it look so easy.’


  19. What many of Us fail to realize is that, They are serious when They say that, no matter which ethnic group referring, We all look alike to THEM.

  20. I’ve been mistaken for a Target employee. Anyone wearing a red shirt that looks moderately dressed up has experienced this at Target.

    The worst part about this is she KNOWS it’s not racist (she laughed about it with Letterman before), so why is she bringing it up?

    Also, is there some sort of stereotype about Target or the service industry in general that only blacks work there? I missed that one. I also seem to have missed the books that talk about “happy” slaves. I believe you may have been taking ignorant comments from a choice one or two politicians and applying them to ALL white people.

  21. As a tall person I am always being asked to get things off top shelf in stores. I very much doubt the person thought she was a Target employee. She is a tall, strong person. She looks like the sort of person who would help someone.

  22. Nothing in the First Lady’s story about the woman at the Target store suggests that race had anything to do with it. The First Lady doesn’t even mention race. And no one would mistake her for a Target employee because Target employees all wear uniforms.

    This seems to be just another example of the Right Wing trying to spin a charming little story about connecting with an average American and turn it into another race-baiting fantasy.

  23. There is no confusion that what I witness was, “racism.
    Working as a cashier at a restaurant in Florida, when someone came into apply for a job,at the top right of application I was ordered to put a CHECK MARK if the person was “black,” not Asian, or any other color or race.”Black”. I said why, being from NH had no idea of racism.I said “no”, told me if I wanted a job I would do as I was told.I did not stay at this job very long, “my mouth got in the way.” I sent an editorial to the newspaper telling them about what happened .Also, at the same restaurant. You were only allowed 40 hours, so whether you were done cashing out or not, you had to punch out and go back to work until everyone left the restaurant.Now that is the truth..there is plenty of racism in the workplace..my Goodness..look what the US Supreme Court Did.If that’s not Racism, one must be blind and deaf as well.

  24. Mrs. Obama was on Letterman last year and told the story very jovially acknowledging her height versus the person asking her and literally said, “I felt so good!” Now she sees it subtle racism? Totally garbage. You can watch the clip from Letterman at the link below. Go to the 4:40 mark.


  25. The truth is that, either you learn to laugh, or you wind up laughing it up where you can’t help it. Now, I have a tendency, if I run across a public figure, to suppose it’s someone who looks like them; I’ve done as much with both Truman Capote and Micky Rooney, and may have done as much with the Clancy Brothers. When someone is surrounded by feds, it’s less likely to be an honest mistake.

  26. I’m 6’1, and I get asked many times to help people get things off of upper shelves. Most of the time I see the peril before I’m asked and just offer my help. I’m White, and not sure it’s racist to ask me for a hand up.

  27. I’m African -American, and I don’t think that lady saw color at all she needed help,and she saw a tall person and just ask for help it had nothing to do with color, She maybe didn’t even look at M.Omaba face. Plus it have been times when I stop a White person and ask for help and they said they didn’t work there. That were not racist at all.

  28. I cannot count how many times I have been asked for help at a store. I’m white. If I have myself put together, I might look privileged to some. No matter what I wear, I still get asked “Excuse me miss, where can I find…” anywhere from Walmart to Nordstroms. Who the heck cares? If I know where it is, I just point them in the right direction.

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