As protests against racial profiling sweep the country in the wake of recent police killings of unarmed black men, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama recounted some of their own experiences with discrimination in an interview excerpt released on Thursday.
"I think people forget that we've lived in the White House for six years," the first lady told People magazine. "Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs."
The president said he's even been mistaken for a valet driver outside a restaurant. "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.
Another time, the first lady recalled, Mr. Obama "was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee."
Even during their time in the White House, Mrs. Obama said, they haven't been wholly insulated from subtler forms of prejudice.
"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," Mrs. Obama said. "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."
In the interview, which will be released in full on Friday, the president emphasized the progress the country has made in healing its racial wounds, despite any occasional brushes with discrimination he and his family have had.
"The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced," he said. "It's one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It's another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress."
The president has previously leaned on the lessons of history to preach a glass-half-full perspective on current racial tensions.
"We have made progress," the president told BET Networks last week in an interview. "And so it's important to recognize that as painful as these instances are, we can't equate what's happening now with what was happening 50 years ago. If you talk to your parents, grandparents, uncles, they'll tell you that things are better."