Barack Obama became the first president in generations to publicly speak the n-word when he used it in a conversation about race and racial violence in the context of the Charleston church shooting.
President Obama appeared on comedian Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast over the weekend; the podcast was released Monday. Maron has turned “WTF” into a well-known and critically-lauded interview series, one that explores difficult or painful topics with a wide array of celebrity and expert guests. Conversations regularly top two hours.
President Obama’s discussion comes in at a hefty sixty-seven minutes, and, in the words of Maron, deals with “college, fitting in, race relations, gun violence, changing the status quo, disappointing your fans, comedians, fatherhood and overcoming fear.”
In case anyone was wondering whether Maron’s interview with President Obama was a joke, he concludes his description by saying “And yes, this really happened.”
President Obama, speaking of racism in America in general, said “We’re not cured of it.” Obama continued, “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 completely erase traces of what happened two to three hundred years earlier.”
Obama’s use of the word evoked a wide range of commentary, much of it positive.
Said noted author Ishmael Reed, “I think he’s being provocative. He’s got a short time to be president, and I think he’s letting his hair down. You have to raise the decibels in order to be heard.”
The Reverend Al Sharpton, who does not use the word himself, said he understood why President Obama did, and suggested that people who take offense to the President’s use of it are missing President Obama’s point: “Some of the reaction is racist. Because they’re discussing this like it’s something that shouldn’t be discussed, which in itself is biased.”
However, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, called the word “disparaging [and] hateful” and said “I got called that name numerous times. It led to fights. It never is appropriate to use it.” Morial’s opinion is that the word “ought to be retired from the English language.”
Maron acknowledged that President Obama had been booked on the show “for some time,” and that the conversation leaned toward race because of last week’s massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Preisdent Obama’s WTF episode is available to stream and download for free. It’s a far-ranging interview, well worth your time if you have a free hour; check it out here.
(Photo credits: White House)