By Manny Otiko
For a president who has tried steadfastly to avoid dealing with America’s thorny race problem, Barack Obama seems to be inevitably caught up in it. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are set to fly to Charleston, S.C. to speak at the funeral of State Senator Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people killed in a domestic terrorist attack last week. Pinckney was also pastor of Emanuel AME Church.
Although the massacre was carried out by Dylann Roof, an aimless young man who had been radicalized by white supremacist web sites, Obama couched the attack as more of a gun control issue.
During a White House press conference on the Charleston shooting, Obama said, “We do not have all the facts, but we do know, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”
However, Obama did tackle America’s racial problem in an extensive interview on comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. During the interview, Obama addressed several issues such as his legacy, whether he would win a third term if he ran again, terrorism and race.
Obama discussed growing up in Hawaii and trying to figure out his Black identity. He said although the country has made great strides since the 50s and 60s, racism is far from over.
“What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, that casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” Obama said. “Racism, we are not cured of. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination.”
Although Obama gave a nuanced view of the evolution of modern-day racism, the media has focused on his use of the n-word. FOX News is working itself into a frenzied outrage over the fact the president used the word and says he has disgraced the office of the presidency. However, Obama is not the first president to use the n-word. FOX News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck said she was worried Obama would use the n-word in the State of Union speech. FOX News guest Deneen Borelli said Obama’s comments were “outrageous.”
“He has really dragged in the gutter-speak of rap music,” Borelli said. “So now he’s the first president of rap, of street? The President-in-chief, the rapper-in-chief now, is further dividing our country.”
Other conservatives took it even either further. Radio show host Mark Levin said Obama was a “racist” and “low life” for using the word.
However, Maron, who conducted the interview, said the media was missing the point. He said news outlets were focusing solely on one word, and ignoring the whole interview which touched on many other issues.
“The context of the conversation was very broad, the point he was trying to make in saying that word was succinct, and part of a longer discussion about race, and for them to get hung up on that is exactly what he’s talking about later in the interview, which examines sort of why the echo chamber creates an environment where no real political conversation can happen,” said Maron in an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
Maron said the podcast was a more intimate setting, and less formal than regular media interviews. This allowed the president to be “candid” and “raw.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who is a close confidant of the president, also defended Obama’s use of the n-word.
“Let’s not act like he used the n-word in a sanitized way. He used it in the way it was meant to be used, which is as a racist, negative word,” said Sharpton in a Politico article.
Politico writer Edward-Isaac Dovere said the real problem is whenever Obama tries to tackle racial issues, whatever he says tends to get blown out of proportion and politicized.