The current People Magazine has a feature titled “The Obamas: How We Deal with Our Own Racist Experiences,” in which both Obama’s reflect on their personal experiences with a racist America. It begins like this…
“The protective bubble that comes with the presidency – the armored limo, the Secret Service detail, the White House – shields Barack and Michelle Obama from a lot of unpleasantness. But their encounters with racial prejudice aren’t as far in the past as one might expect. And they obviously still sting.”
Here is a relatively recent experience, the first one cited by Mrs. Obama in the article, that “stung”:
“I tell this story – I mean, even as the First Lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target [in 2012], 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.”
That’s right, Michelle feels—or says she feels—that this incident was proof of incipient racism, one of the “micro-aggressions” that white society inflicts on African Americans daily, sapping their self-esteem, confidence, and trust in society.
She’s right that it “happens in life” and isn’t new. In fact, it happened to me, in the local Target, coincidentally, just last month. A very short elderly Asian woman asked if I would take down a large container of laundry detergent from a high shelf. Obviously, she thought I worked at Target and was denigrating me, applying racial stereotypes to a large bald Greek-American man.
I can say with no hesitation whatsoever that what happened to Michelle at Target was not an incident of racial stereotyping. The photo above shows how Michelle was dressed on the fateful day, and anyone who would mistake her flowered blouse, Nike hat, shades and shopping cart as the uniform of a Target employee had recently escaped from a Home for the Bewildered. What wasn’t new about the encounter is that in a healthy, ethical community strangers should ask each other for kindly help and assistance, and normal, non-paranoid, non race-obsessed citizens—and especially their leaders, who are supposed to model responsible behavior— ought not to be so warped by ideologically-dictated confirmation bias that their immediate reaction is, “Hmmmm…what did she mean by that?”
It as not as if the woman walked up to Michelle and asked her if she knew anything “about birthin’ babies,” or, as Sammy Davis, Jr. used to do on “Laugh-In,”Do the name Ruby Begonia ring a bell?” She asked a taller fellow shopper to do her a favor, little realizing that her innocent act would be turned into proof of America’s racial hostility. That is because the un-named shopper, unlike Michelle Obama, is not inherently suspicious of other races. Thanks to the endless stream of signals emanating from the Obama Administration, however, African Americans are less trusting of whites than they have been for decades.
Do you believe that the attitude Michelle displayed in “People” hasn’t contributed to this? She just showed her admirers that it is justifiable and rational to interpret any interaction with white people as evidence of racial animus. Meanwhile, any white citizen who reads the article and later is tempted to treat an African-American citizen like, you know, anyone else, by asking for help in a Target, will hesitate and perhaps avoid exactly the kind of benign, friendly, daily interaction that builds trust and comity between races. Last night, in fact, seeking batteries at a Target for my Christmas window decorations, I asked an African-American woman, with two small children in tow, if she knew where I could locate them. I hadn’t read the People piece then, though: now I know that she thought I was a racist, harkening back to the days of slavery.
Michelle Obama’s tale may be even worse than it seems, and to me it seems very wrong already. Newsbusters found a video clip from 2012 in which Michelle represented that same incident to David Letterman as a charming anecdote that showed how she was treated like any other shopper. This suggests, sadly, that Mrs. Obama knew that the incident was benign and had nothing to do with race, but now, with racial tensions over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner giving convenient traction to civil rights activist claims of rampant racism, she is repackaging the story to join the march…and, of course, to energize the base,
If so, it doesn’t repackage well, and is just one more indication of why the primary legacy of the Obama Presidency is likely to be that it sent U.S. race relations reeling backward by decades, to the benefit of no one except the despicable politicians who seek an eternally divided nation.
Facts: People Magazine