From the New York Times:
The Obamas, Race and SlightsSeriously, the White House living quarters are not that expansive.
By Charles Blow
DEC. 17, 2014
The president and the first lady added their voices this week to the raging conversation on race following the protests that erupted in the wake of grand juries not indicting police officers who killed two unarmed black men — Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
In an interview with People magazine, Mrs. Obama recalled a trip to Target during which “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.”
Could the Target shopper who asked Mrs. Obama for help simply not have recognized her and needed, presumably, a taller person’s assistance? Sure, in theory. Or could the encounter have been disdainful and presumptuous, a manifestation of some inherent bias? Sure, that too could have been the case.
Could there have been some combination of those forces at play? Also possible.
The truth is, we don’t know. The lady asking for help might not even know. We are not always aware of our biases, let alone are we always able to articulate them. And people can sometimes be hypersensitive to bias when they are submerged in it.
All we know is that Mrs. Obama questions the encounter and has misgivings about it. For her, it’s a feeling. Others might hear this story and feel that Mrs. Obama possibly overreacted or misconstrued the meaning of the request.
But that is, in part, what racial discussions come down to: feelings. These feelings are, of course, informed by facts, experiences, conditioning and culture, but the feelings are what linger, questions of motive and malice hanging in the air like the stench of rotting meat, knotting the stomach and chilling the skin.