Look. I honestly believe that yes, there are lingering vestiges of racism in our society. You don’t exorcise something that pervasive in modern culture in less than a century. Occasionally – not regularly, but occasionally – we’ve all been known to make varying assumptions about other people based on existing stereotypes.
I have no doubt that, in their lifetimes, the Obamas have experienced lots of instances of discrimination based on skin color, and I think that’s a tragedy. However, I do not think being asked to reach something on a high shelf at a big box retail store is one of those instances.
“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,” Michelle Obama, who is 5’11”, said.
Frankly, speaking as someone who is, shall we say, a perfectly-formed miniature human being, sometimes we short people just need something off a really high shelf. And when that happens we have two choices: climb the flimsy Target infrastructure in pursuit of the comically-oversized budget bag of toilet paper and risk getting a concussion from Extra-Soft Charmin, or ask someone who is of normal human stature to reach it for us. Generally, we try to ask people who have achieved the higher eschelons of human height for these favors, and usually, we ask them because something in the back of our brains tells us that they “seem nice.” I have even, in my finer moments, asked random strangers who do not “seem nice” simply because I do not want to sustain a serious injury.
Yes, in fact, that person probably did see you, Mrs. Obama, as “someone who could help her,” because – and this is key – you are a very tall woman. And honestly, you thinking that someone who is vertically-challenged was just blindingly racist is discriminatory in itself. We may not be many, but we, the people of this country who see high-heeled shoes as a God-given right and our ability to play professional sports as a dream that died in our early childhood, are proud. All we ask is for a helping hand with the paper towels, Mrs. Obama.
The other story the Obamas relate is better at conveying their life experiences.
She also said that her husband, Barack Obama, was asked to get coffee when he was wearing a tux. “He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee,” she told People.
The president told his own experiences. “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 the magazine.
This, I have seen people do, most glaringly, in the higher-income, mostly-white, “progessively” liberal Chicago neighborhood I called home for a little over a year. And it’s awful. Of course, it’s also not a behavior limited to your regular, everyday jerks. According to at least one account, Valerie Jarrett once did this at a White House function, to a four-star general.
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