Obama tough­ens tone on racism, uses N-word


For a frus­trated Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, last week’s slaugh­ter of nine black church­go­ers proves once again that the United States has yet to ex­or­cise its racist de­mons.

But, just to un­der­line the point, he showed in re­marks re­leased Mon­day that he is not afraid to use a term that most Amer­i­cans would blanch at in an ef­fort to con­vey his frus­tra­tion.

“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,” Amer­ica’s first black pres­i­dent said.

“It’s not just a mat­ter of overt dis­crim­i­na­tion,” he said. “So­ci­eties don’t overnight com­pletely erase ev­ery­thing that hap­pened 200 to 300 years prior.”

Speak­ing to online ra­dio broad­cast “WTF with Marc Maron,” Obama put last week’s mur­der­ous rampage in a black church by a sus­pected young white su­prem­a­cist in the con­text of U.S. history.

“It is in­con­tro­vert­ible that race re­la­tions have im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly dur­ing my life­time and yours, and that op­por­tu­ni­ties have opened up, and that at­ti­tudes have changed,” he said.

“What is also true is the legacy of slav­ery, Jim Crow, dis­crim­i­na­tion in al­most ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” Obama said. “We’re not cured of it.” Such an anal­y­sis might seem ob­vi­ous in the wake of more than a year of racially charged protests trig­gered by al­leged po­lice abuses and the deaths of un­armed black men.

‘Within our grasp’

But it is nev­er­the­less very un­usual for a U.S. politi­cian to speak so frankly on a topic so many Amer­i­cans are un­com­fort­able with. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Mon­day that Obama did not re­gret us­ing the term.

Be­fore last week’s slaugh­ter in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the pres­i­dent had be­gun to iden­tify more closely and per­son­ally with the civil rights cause.

A high point for sup­port­ers came in March when Obama at­tended a cer­e­mony mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of a bru­tally re­pressed civil rights march in Selma, Alabama.

“Our march is not yet over,” he de­clared.

Obama re­turned to this theme, and to his own ex­pe­ri­ences of race and iden­tity as the son of an ab­sent Kenyan fa­ther and a white Amer­i­can mother, in the in­ter­view with Maron.

The pres­i­dent de­scribed how grow­ing up, he had to learn “I don’t have to be one way to be both an African Amer­i­can but also some­body who af­firms the white side of my fam­ily.”

But now the evo­lu­tion he wants to see is in broader so­ci­ety.

“And so what I tried to de­scribe in the Selma speech that I gave ... was a no­tion that progress is real and we have to take hope from that progress, but what is also real is that the march isn’t over and the work is not yet com­pleted,” he said.

“And then our job is to try, in very con­crete ways, to fig­ure out what more can we do.”

Public re­vul­sion at the sup­pres­sion of the Selma march led to the Vot­ing Rights Act, a vic­tory in the civil rights strug­gle that even­tu­ally made pos­si­ble Obama’s elec­tion to the White House.

“If we made as much progress over the next 10 years as we have over the last 50, things would be bet­ter,” he said.

“And that’s within our grasp.”

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