Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Obamas on their "racist experiences"

Actually, these are not necessarily "racist experiences." The reason a woman asked Michelle Obama to hand her something from a shelf in a store is that Michelle Obama was much taller than the woman. Michelle Obama is apparently 5'11" — an inch taller than me — and I often get asked by other customers in stores to get things from the high shelves. This is not because of prejudice against me; it's because I happen to be of average height for a man. Relatively tall people like us are advantaged by having an easier time reaching products in stores; how can we complain about occasionally being asked for help by someone who's too short to comfortably reach some of the products?

I've also been mistaken for a store clerk. I've also been closely followed by store clerks, and interrogated while trying to leave a store without buying anything. I've also been refused entry into my own workplace, when I was wearing a suit and tie and had been working there for a long time, because the security guard (a white man) didn't believe I worked there. (I should mention that this was not at my current job.) Yes these things are annoying, but they happen to people of all races.

Many of the Obamas' examples reflect a certain classism: Don't you know who I am?! How could you possibly mistake me for a lowly waiter?!

There's something unseemly about the most famous, powerful couple in America expressing dismay that a random citizen would ever fail to recognize how important they are.

UPDATE (December 21): I was looking around for help in a clothing store today, and it wasn't totally clear who was a customer and who was an employee. The employees had no obvious dress code or name tags, and some of them walked around nonchalantly in a way that blended in with the customers (which could be a good sales technique). It occurred to me that if I had taken seriously what Michelle Obama said about racist microaggression, I should have avoided asking any of the black or Hispanic employees for help, and sought out the white employees instead. But that would mostly help whites and hurt minorities! They're all working for commissions, and they can benefit from the sales experience of interacting with me even if they don't make a sale. That seems to be a worse "microaggression" than occasionally mixing up a customer with a store employee, which isn't going to prevent anyone from making money.


CatherineM said...

Also note that Mrs. Obama changed her story. The first time she referenced this shopping trip was to say how refreshing it was to be a regular shopper and not be recognized by the woman who asked her help. Seems she changed her story to identify as a victim.