In an interview, Obama talked about the debates over race and guns that have erupted after the arrest of a white man in the allegedly racially motivated shooting deaths of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Racism, we are not cured of it,” Obama said. “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. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”
Obama’s remarks came during an interview out Monday with comedian Marc Maron for his popular podcast, where coarse language is often part of the discussion. The president’s uttering a racial slur aloud stirred controversy, especially on social media, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said later Monday that wasn’t surprising.
Obama didn’t plan in advance to use the word to be provocative, Earnest said, but was simply making a point during a casual, free-flowing interview. He said he didn’t recall ever hearing the president say the racial slur before, but he noted that it did appear in his book, “Dreams from My Father.”
In the interview, Obama said while attitudes about race have improved significantly since he was born, the “legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, that casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on.”
Obama also expressed frustration that “the grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong” and prevented gun control from advancing in Congress after 20 children and six educators were massacred in a Connecticut elementary school in 2012.
“I will tell you, right after Sandy Hook, Newtown, when 20 6-year-olds are gunned down, and Congress literally does nothing – yes, that’s the closest I came to feeling disgusted,” he said. “I was pretty disgusted.”
He said it’s important to respect that hunting and sportsmanship are important to a lot of gun-owning Americans. “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 deranged from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing, and can do enormous harm,” Obama said.