"I think people forget that we've lived in the White House for six years," the first lady told PEOPLE, laughing wryly, along with her husband, at the assumption that the first family has been largely insulated from coming face-to-face with racism.
"Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs," Mrs. Obama said in the Dec. 10 interview appearing in the new issue of PEOPLE.
"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. 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 a 30-minute conversation, the president and Mrs. Obama candidly added their stories to the national discussion of race and racial profiling that was sparked by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.
"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," said the president, adding that, yes, it had happened to him.
Mrs. Obama recalled another incident: "He was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee."
Things have gotten better, both Obamas agreed, but there's still more progress to be made.
And yes, I've been mistaken as The Help and not an IT professional before on several occasions, once at an office holiday party. You can be any kind of professional, even the President of the United States of America, apparently, and as a black person there are still people who will assume you're the wait staff.
No amount of professional accomplishment will protect you from that, folks. No amount.