“Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n*gger in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”
These are the words of President Barack Obama during his recent appearance on Comedian Marc Maron’s podcast, “WTF.” Obama flew into Maron’s recording studio to talk about a range of topics, largely on his wavering acceptance and enthusiasm from the American public, what has and hasn’t been accomplished during his term and the lessons he’s learned before and during his time in the Oval Office.
It was a bold move by the president, who is generally reserved when it comes to discussions on race. The candid comments immediately ignited a media firestorm, with nearly all of the major outlets debating whether the use of the word to make a point about race was the wrong choice.
“Obama Uses N-Word On Purpose,” one CNN headline proclaimed, their shock radiating in their words.
“If he talks like that in public—I can only imagine what he says in private,” a Fox News writer declared.
The debates themselves show just how far the media missed the point, not to mention how far we still have to go when it comes to progress, an observation that was not lost on the president.
“Progress in a democracy is never instantaneous. It’s always partial. You can’t get cynical or frustrated because you didn’t get there immediately…The question is given the way we’re starting now, how do we move as best we can in the right direction?”
He also listed the incremental gains he’s made in restoring 401(k)s, ending two wars and securing healthcare for millions of Americans that were previously uninsured. Still, Obama expresses that he understands Americans’ frustration, cynicism and resulting detachment with the government and the voting process. In his view, lack of motivation from voters is one of the most damning issues that impacts Americans, as their lack of engagement can in turn leave them behind with policies that conflict with their needs and priorities.
“One of the challenges that I’ve had to adapt to—and I think this is where hopefully I’ve gotten better as a president—is to recognize that it’s not enough to be right or to get the policy to be right. It’s also important to be able to communicate it in a way that is digestible easily enough for the public. But you can move the needle of public opinion and sometimes it’s just a matter of you being able to get enough folks in Congress who share your views to have the votes to get stuff done.”
Among his various statements, Obama’s commentary on racism were equally striking. He jokes that he is a highly optimistic man, and says that even in light of the recent brutalities and homicides we’ve seen against Black bodies at the hands of the police and white supremacists, there’s been measurable progress in race relations in the 20th and 21st Century. Yet he continues to say that the legacy of racism from slavery and Jim Crow is still deeply ingrained in American society.
“Progress is real and we have to take hope from that progress. But what is also real is that the march isn’t over.”
Check out photos from President Obama’s media appearance with Maron here.