Mistaken identity

President Obama has complained about being mistaken for a valet. He attributes this case of mistaken identity to his race, though it must be said that, race aside, Obama does sort of look like a valet (also, until he turned gray, like the man on the top of a wedding cake).

Michelle Obama complains that, as first lady no less, she has been asked by a customer to bring down merchandise from a shelf. As John points out, Michelle’s original version of the story described the event, with amusement, in non-racial terms.

We can probably stipulate, however, that on occasion both Barack and Michelle, along with many other successful black Americans, have been assumed on first glance to have a lower status than that which they achieved. And though such incidents are hardly the end of the world, one need not be inordinately thin-skinned to mildly resent being stereotyped into a station one has surpassed.

I speak from personal experience. As a middle-aged Jew living in an upscale Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. I was on several occasions assumed at social gatherings to be a liberal.

No one asked me for his car keys, nor was I pressed into performing physical labor. But having years earlier moved up from liberalism, it was, in equal parts, amusing and disconcerting to be relegated in people’s eyes to that unfortunate status.

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