In a candid and wide-ranging interview released Monday morning, President Barack Obama used the N-word in discussing the struggle to overcome the legacy of racism in the United States.
“Racism, we are not cured of it,” Obama says during the podcast interview with comedian Marc Maron. “And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n****r 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 two hundred to three hundred years prior.”
Slavery “casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” added Obama, whose mother was white and father was black.
The president’s comments come in the wake of a racially-motivated massacre last Wednesday at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The admitted shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, was arrested the following day and charged with nine counts of murder and a related gun charge. Police say Roof, who is white, sat through a Bible study meeting with his victims for an entire hour before going on a racist tirade and opening fire.
The incident, which has reignited debate over the Confederate flag flying outside the South Carolina Capitol, has also renewed conversations about gun control, which Obama famously tried and failed to pass following the massacre of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
“I’ve done this way too often,” Obama told Maron, whose popular “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast is known for frank and sometimes crude language. “During the course of my presidency it feels as if a couple times a year I end up having to speak to the country and speak to a particularly community about a devastating loss … But part of the point I wanted to make is, it’s not enough just to feel bad. 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.”
“This is unique to our country,” Obama continued, pointing to other countries that have passed sweeping gun control laws in the wake of mass shooting events. “There is no other advanced nation on earth that tolerates multiple shootings on a regular basis and considers it normal. And to some degree that’s what’s happened in this country. It’s become something that we expect.”
Despite his disappointment in the political process, Obama said he wasn’t cynical.
“There’s a big gap between who we are as a people and how our politics expresses itself,” the president said, noting the effect of gerrymandering, super PACs and a polarizing media market. “The issue is not the American people – that’s where my faith is – the question is how do we build institutions and connections that allow the goodness, decency, and common sense of ordinary folks to express itself in the decisions that are made about how the country moves forward.”