He didn't cry and he didn't drop an f-bomb, but President Obama did deliver a raw and resonant moment in his interview released this morning on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast. During a discussion on race relations in America, the president emphasized how much further we have to go to defeat racism — in shockinlgy frank vocabulary, including the n-word.
In the interview, which was recorded only a day after the horrific mass shootings in Charleston, host Maron asked the President to comment on the evolution of racist attitudes in the U.S. Obama began by saying:
"I always tell young people in particular: Do not say that nothing’s changed when it comes to race in America unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950s or 60s or 70s. It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours." However, he added, "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. That’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it… It's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'nigger' in public."
As with many of the issues broached in the hour-long interview (including health care and the environment), Obama emphasized not only the importance of recognizing how far we've come, but also that real change doesn't happen as fast as we would like it — and that we can't let frustration stop us from trying. The vitality of hope still seems to be at the core of Obama's value system.
In choosing to use the bracing racial term in this context, Obama underscored his own point perfectly: It is startling to hear the president — or any public figure — drop the n-word. It certainly wouldn't have been headline news 60 years ago. But as Obama went on to say, "that's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination."
The whole interview is well worth a listen, as Obama does what he's always been good at: humanizing the president and the presidency. He talks candidly about his family, the struggles of aging, and some of his favorite comedians (cue the eye-roll when he pronounces Louis C.K.'s name as "Lewis" — OMG, Daaaad).
On every subject he addresses, Obama continually brings the conversation back to resiliency and the road ahead for all of us. Concluding his comments on race, he said, "The march isn't over and the work is not yet completed. Then our job is to try, in very concrete ways, to figure out what more can we do."