Reading on Target

Although I’m not a big fan of the First Lady (who was not elected Guardian of the Groceries as far as I can recall, but seems determined to play the part), I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, as I would most people. I don’t want to be an outrage junkie — my hands get tired of pressing the “eleventy” keys all the time.

But I’m somewhat bemused by a passage from an interview Mrs. Obama did with People Magazine. The ostensible topic of the interview, summed up in the headline, is “How We Deal With Our Own Racist Experiences.” One example she offers is the following:

“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.”

At this point, I think there are several ways in which the incident might be taken, most of which don’t seem offensive (Yeah, yeah, privilege… blow it out your ear.) For example, perhaps the reason people weren’t clustering to her was because she’s the First Lady and surrounded by bodyguards. For that matter, did Mrs. Obama want people to come up to her? She said the trip was publicized and she wasn’t disguised, which seems to be the sort of thing one classes as a public appearance by a public figure. So is the offensive thing that no one else approached her?

Or was the offensive thing the fact that someone asked her to help them with an item? That happens to me fairly often, because I’m 6′ 4″. Mrs. Obama is listed at 5′ 11″, which doesn’t make her a human cherry-picker, but does put her within reach of some tall shelves. For that matter, I’ve had folks ask to help them get stuff into their cars before. I was glad to help.

Indeed, a reasonable reading of the incident might have been that the person who wanted help thought Mrs. Obama looked kind and trustworthy enough to help a stranger in need. Taken that way, the incident could have been viewed as a compliment: “[S]he didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her.” Quelle horreur!

But instead, this is somehow indicative of the vile racism directed at the First Family. I guess people see what they want to see. But I’m heading to Real City in a few minutes to do some research at Flagship. And if you see me there and need help reaching something on a high shelf — I’ll help if I can.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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One Response to Reading on Target

  1. Your theory on the grocery store situation matches my own Occam’s razor of reasonable explanation. She also added that her husband was once mistaken to be a waiter at a formal affair.

    I hate to say this in any way that would sound diplomatic,* but her husband being mistaken for a waiter is also not a surprise. People did not assume him to be a waiter because of his color, but because of his body language. Out of the corner of anyone’s eye, a tuxedo-clad person acting stiff and formal yet fawning who stands just outside a circle of conversation is readily mistaken as a servant. This is the error of the person who spoke to him in such a manner. The President (or future-President, based on when this occurred) was not so much acting as a servant but likely acting servile.

    *Not an error. Sic.

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