Obamas on Race: We've Been Treated Like the Help

PHOTO: Barack and Michelle Obama are pictured on June 30, 2014 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. PlayMandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH President Obama's Delicate Dance on Race

President and Michelle Obama personally identify with everyday experiences of racial bias in America that have underpinned recent protests across the country, they told People magazine in an interview to be released Friday.

“Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs," Michelle Obama told the magazine.

On one occasion, she said, her husband “was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

President Obama said he's even been mistakenly treated as 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," he said, according to excerpts of the interview released today.

The first lady also described being mistreated at a Target store in suburban Washington, during a shopping trip she took in 2011.

PHOTO: First lady Michelle Obama, wearing a hat and sunglasses, stands in line at a Target department store in Alexandria, Va., Sept. 29, 2011.ASSOCIATED PRESS
First lady Michelle Obama, wearing a hat and sunglasses, stands in line at a Target department store in Alexandria, Va., Sept. 29, 2011.

"Even as the first lady," she told the magazine, "during the 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 the incidents are "the regular course of life" for African-Americans and a "challenge" for the country to overcome.

Though they've lived inside the White House bubble for six years, the Obamas have been making the point that they are still in touch with the experience of minority communities.

President Obama has pushed back against criticism that he has not been aggressive enough in talking about issues of race and justice, particularly involving African-American men.

"If you look at after what happened with Michael Brown, if you looked at what happened after Trayvon, if you looked at the decision after Eric Garner, I'm being pretty explicit about my concern, and being pretty explicit about the fact that this is a systemic problem, that black folks and Latinos and others are not just making this up," Obama told BET in an interview earlier this month. "I describe it in very personal terms."

The president told People that he applauds the efforts of other prominent African-American athletes and celebrities to speak out against police brutality using the "I Can't Breathe" slogan, inspired by the case of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after he was put in a choke hold by a New York City police officer. President Obama has not directly weighed in on the case.

“I think LeBron did the right thing," Obama said of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who wore a shirt with the slogan on the court. "We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness. I’d like to see more athletes do that -- not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.”