Commenting on the massacre in Charleston, S.C., President Obama used the N-word in a new interview that aired Monday while making a broader point about the nation’s progress with race relations.
“It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours,” he told Marc Maron on the comedian’s “WTF” podcast that was recorded Friday during a trip to Los Angeles. “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.”
The United States is not “cured” of racism, Obama continued. “It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say … in public,” he said, mentioning the epithet. “That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt racism.”
The use of the word was striking and clearly designed to make a point for Obama, generally a careful and cautious public speaker. Since the mass shooting last week at a black church in Charleston, Obama has renewed his call for stronger gun control, a politically difficult issue where public discussion usually invites immediate and vitriolic backlash.
In response not only to the Charleston shooting but to violent clashes between law enforcement and minorities that have riven the U.S. in recent months, Obama said the nation needs a broader sense “that what happens to those kids matters to me even if I never meet them.”
He said that a number of things, including such policy decisions as reforming police practices and making early childhood education more widely available, can help people recognize that “my society’s going to be better off, I’m going to feel better about the America I live in, and over time I’m confident that my children and my grandchildren are going to live a better life if those kids also have opportunity.
“That’s where we have to feel hopeful — rather than just say that nothing’s changed, we have to say, ‘Wow, we’ve actually made significant progress over the last 50 years,'” Obama said. “If we made as much progress over the next 10 years as we have over the last 50, things would be better. And that’s within our grasp.”
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