For the first time ever, the President of the United States hopped on a podcast to discuss a multitude of topics. Hosted in comedian Marc Maron’s garage, the ‘WTF‘ podcast took a break from its usual comedic atmosphere in order to talk with Barack Obama about various issues facing America, as well as Obama’s early life and his struggle with racial identity.
Following the tragic deaths of nine black church-goers in the South Carolina shooting, Mr. Obama addresses the legacy slavery has left behind in the U.S. – saying that it still looms over American life. “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,” he says, adding ““We’re not cured of it. 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. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened two to 300 years prior.”
In his first term, Obama typically held off from confronting issues regarding race, save for an early comment about the white police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts who arrested a black Harvard professor. However, due to the onslaught of racially charged incidents occurring in his second term such as Trayvon Martin’s death and the Ferguson protests, the President has become more open about tackling race relations. In the one-hour interview, Obama reviews America’s indisputable progress in race relations over the last few decades, as well as his own upbringing and how he ‘tried on’ many different kinds of personas throughout his youth while attempting to find his place in the African-American community.
“[I was] trying on a whole bunch of outfits,” remembered Mr. Obama. “Here’s how I should act. Here’s what it means to be cool. Here’s what it means to be a man.” It reportedly wasn’t until he reached his 20’s that he began to understand how to honour both sides of his racial identity, as he was born to a black father and white mother. “I don’t have to be one way to be both an African-American and also someone who affirms the white side of my family, I don’t have to push back from the love and values that my mom instilled in me.”
In addition to racism, the two also talked about gun control and how it relates to terrible circumstances like the one that transpired last week. “It’s not enough to just feel bad,” expressed Obama. “There are actions that could be taken to make events like this less likely, and one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic, common-sense gun safety laws that, by the way, the majority of gun owners support.” He added “The question is, just, is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with some common-sense stuff that prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something, or confused about something, or is racist, or is, you know, deranged, from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing and can do enormous harm? And that is not something that we have ever fully come to terms with.”
The 53 year old President was recently criticized for not implementing new gun control measures when he made his statement about the church shootings, however he claims that it is unfortunately not that simple thanks to the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“I don’t foresee any real action being taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and they say to themselves, ‘This is not normal, this is something that we can change, and we’re going to change it,’” said Mr. Obama in the interview. “And if you don’t have that kind of public and voter pressure, then it’s not going to change from the inside.”
All in all it was a very interesting dialogue, but as is tradition with almost any time Obama does something – some individuals are shocked and appalled. Many people lost focus of the bigger picture and instead chose to chastise the President for his use of the n-word. The white house has since released a statement saying that this is certainly not the first time Mr. Obama has used the word, reminding everyone that “he uses the term about a dozed times in ‘Dreams from my Father’,” the President’s memoir he wrote in 1995 detailing his life growing up in Hawaii. The fact that the word was not even used in a derogatory sense and yet people are still up in arms about its use only serves to further illustrate Obama’s point. It really must be a self-righteous world if people are more ‘offended’ at the utterance of a single word than real institutional and systematic racism happening before their eyes every day- of which the word is reminiscent.