Analysis: Focusing on POTUS Using N-Word Means You Missed Point

by Errin Whack /  / Updated 

In attempting to quantify how far we've come and how much remains undone in our country's long journey towards racial equality, President Barack Obama said the N-word in making his point — immediately drawing media headlines focused on the epithet and igniting social media.

The word was part of a wide-ranging, hourlong interview with WTF Podcast host Marc Maron, but clearly the most heard. The comedian asked the president to discuss the state of race relations in America, to which he responded in part:

"We're not cured of (racism). It's not just a matter of it not being polite to say 'n-----' 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 2 to 300 years prior."

Gwen Ifill and Eric Deggans pointed out on Twitter, that a focus on the president's use of a racial slur to the exclusion of his full comments misses the point.

Before dropping the n-bomb, Obama also had this to say:

"It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours and that attitudes have changed. That is a fact. 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."

And the president concluded by saying:

"When you look at how to deal with racism... I'm less interested in having an ideological conversation than looking at what has happened in the past and applying it and scaling up."

Obama announced last month that much of his life after leaving the White House will be focused on such action, from the $600 million presidential library that will also be dedicated to economic development that he plans to build his wife's South Side Chicago neighborhood.

Social media was quick to point out that Obama is hardly the first U.S. president to use the N-word — though he is obviously the first black one. (He is also the first black president to play golf.)

It's actually not the first time many Americans have heard him use it at all.

For clues on whether Obama might be regretting his choice of words, one could look to how he ended the interview, reflecting on why he's a better president and would've been a better candidate today:

"I know what I'm doing and I'm fearless ... Not pretending to be fearless. When you get to that point ... That's such a liberating feeling."