Obama mistaken for waiter, valet driver, and wife Michelle for shop assistant

US President Barack Obama and his family (from left), daughters Malia and Sasha, First Lady Michelle Obama and mother-in-law Marian Robinson, attend the lighting of the National Christmas Tree near the White House in Washington, Dec 4, 2014. Barack a
US President Barack Obama and his family (from left), daughters Malia and Sasha, First Lady Michelle Obama and mother-in-law Marian Robinson, attend the lighting of the National Christmas Tree near the White House in Washington, Dec 4, 2014. Barack and Michelle Obama have revealed their experiences of racism in a wide-ranging interview with celebrity weekly People Magazine published Wednesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Barack and Michelle Obama have revealed their experiences of racism in a wide-ranging interview with celebrity weekly People Magazine published Wednesday.

Mrs Obama recalled an incident in a Target department store where she appeared to have been mistaken for a shop assistant; US President Obama revealed he had once been mistaken for a waiter at a black-tie gala.

"I tell this story - I mean, even as the first lady during that wonderfully publicised 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 told People.

"These incidents in the black community, this is the regular course of life."

President Obama said he had variously been mistaken for a parking attendant and a waiter in the past.

"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," Mr Obama said, confirming it had happened to him.

Mrs Obama added: "He was wearing a tuxedo at a black tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee."

The Obamas' reflections come at a time of national debate about racism and racial profiling in America following the deaths of several unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.

Mr Obama was quick to put his own experiences in the context of the indignities suffered by previous generations and more recent cases.

"The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced," Mr Obama 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 Obamas said they had been engaged in a discussion about race with daughters Sasha and Malia since they were young.

"What we have tried to explain is that history doesn't always move as fast as we'd like; that there are vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow," Mr Obama said.

"And although things have gotten enormously better, those biases are still there."