It may be difficult for the majority of Americans to understand, but having President Barack Obama and his wife speak openly about the challenges of being black in this country resonates powerfully in communities of color.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama said in a People magazine interview that they have faced some of the same prejudices that other African Americans have. They spoke openly about race as protests throughout the nation continue to occur over the Aug. 9 fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and July 17 police choking death of 43-year-old Eric Garner in New York.
“There is 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 said.
Michelle Obama recalled being in a Target store as first lady and being asked by another shopper to get something from a shelf.
These and countless other instances of being treated like second-class citizens are galling situations for African Americans, who are just trying to enjoy life but constantly get mistaken for being being the help only because they’re black. Other situations are like those that billionaire Oprah Winfrey has recalled of being questioned in expensive stores whether she — as an African American woman — can afford to buy certain items.
Having the first family speak about these and many other situations validates the frustration, embarrassment and anger that people of color continually feel. There also is the hope among African Americans that shining a big White House light on the problem will help it to go away rather than people who are white constantly saying, “I can’t believe anything like that still happens.”
The president said his daughters will benefit from the progress that has been made in race relations. But the first parents said they still remind Sasha and Malia that prejudices are still out there.
“We don’t want them to be constrained by any of these stereotypes,” Obama said. “So when something like Ferguson or the Trayvon Martin case happens, around the dinner table we’re pointing out to them that too often in our society black boys are still perceived as more dangerous or riskier, they get less benefit of the doubt, and that it will be part of their task, their generation’s task, to continue to try to eradicate some of those old stereotypes.”
These are conversations that previous generations of African Americans have had with their children so they can understand racism, know how to overcome it and still succeed in America. Unfortunately, these talks are still required.