President Barack Obama took direct aim at GOP nominee Donald Trump’s assertion that conditions for African-Americans now are worse than they have been at any time in U.S. history, saying in an interview aired Friday that even young children know better than that.
“You know, I think even most 8-year-olds will tell you that whole slavery thing wasn’t very good for black people,” Obama said in an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC News that was taped Thursday in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture ahead of its opening. “Jim Crow wasn’t very good for black people.”
Trump has suggested repeatedly that black Americans should vote for him because of the dire circumstances they now face, saying in August in Michigan, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
“Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before,” Trump said during a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday. “Ever, ever, ever.”
Speaking Friday evening at a White House reception celebrating the museum’s opening, Obama said, “the timing of this is fascinating. Because in so many ways, it is the best of times, but in many ways these are also troubled times. History doesn’t always move in a straight line. And without vigilance, we can go backwards as well as forwards.”
Referring to the current protests in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina, the president added that the museum “allows all of us as Americans to put our current circumstances in a historical context.”
“My hope is that, as people are seeing what’s happened in Tulsa or Charlotte on television, and perhaps are less familiar with not only the history of the African American experience but also how recent some of these challenges have been, upon visiting the museum, may step back and say, I understand,” he continued, “I sympathize. I empathize. I can see why folks might feel angry and I want to be part of the solution as opposed to resisting change.”
The president first questioned Trump’s assessment that blacks’ status in the United States is at a low point last Saturday, telling the Congressional Black Caucus, “You may have heard Hillary’s opponent in this election say that there’s never been a worse time to be a black person. I mean, he missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow … but we’ve got a museum for him to visit. So he can tune in. We will educate him.”
But his latest remarks, which aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America” as part of a joint interview with his wife, Michelle, were even sharper. Obama, who will speak at the museum’s opening Saturday, emphasized that Americans need to understand that the impact of discrimination will take decades to undo.
“It’s unrealistic to think that somehow that all just completely went away, because the Civil Rights Act was passed or because Oprah’s making a lot of money or because I was elected president,” he said. “You know, that’s not how society works. And if you have hundreds of years of racial discrimination it’s likely that the vestiges of that discrimination linger on. And we should acknowledge that and own that.”
Michelle Obama said the museum’s collection highlighted Americans’ ability to rise above past wrongs.
“We’ve been through so much. And we’ve overcome so much,” she said. “After you see what we’ve been through, there’s nothing we can’t handle as a community and as a nation.”
Addressing the ongoing and sometimes violent protests in Charlotte in the wake of this week’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Obama said the fact that so many people of color see racial bias in the system should prompt Americans to ask themselves “tough questions. Are we teaching our kids to see people for their character and not for their color?”
“If you have repeated instances in which the perception is at least that this might not have been handled the same way were it not for the element of race, even if it’s unconscious,” he said, “then I think it’s important for all of us to say, ‘We want to get this right. We want to do something about it.’ “