Yesterday, Barack Obama shook America with his use of the contentious term n****r when conducting an interview for WTF Podcast. The term that is most frequently referenced in the world of hip-hop and has led to claims that he is the “president of rap” has also received fierce criticism as an unprofessional exclamation by the U.S presidency.
The N word has a strong resonance in U.S history, and is more profoundly associated with the slavery and subordination experienced by the African Americans during the plantation era. ‘N****r’ was a social stamp that failed to subside with the American Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves, and paradoxically, it continued to thrive under Jim Crow and its system of lynchings and segregation. Some would argue this level of victimisation is still evident in 2015, a claim hard to dispute with the recent massacre in Charleston.
Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency in 2008 was a catalyst moment in American history. In a country with regions that are overtly white supremacist and xenophobic, his election signified a progression of American values in a country that had only secured equal citizenship through systematic protest fifty years prior.
“I always tell young people in particular: ‘Do not say that nothings changed when it comes to race in America unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950s or 60s or 70s.’”
Barack Obama in his interview with Marc Maron entails precisely what his African American predecessors were advocating: equal opportunity. His presidential success has broken a history of socio-economic discrimination in America and his referral to a term which stereotyped his African-American ancestors is a wise acknowledgement of the progress of U.S race relations.
Obama’s professionalism need not come under scrutiny in this interview, nor should Obama be considered to be enticing racial tension. Obama can only demand admiration through this comment which recognises that there has been progression in racial equality but racism has not been entirely eradicated as an institutional obstacle in American society; he has ultimately defied the conservative and emotionless persona that is so often demanded by the political elite when addressing these contentious subjects.
Racial tension in the U.S has indeed resurfaced in the past year as a major social issue. The African American community has received the police shootings of Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Ezell Ford as exemplifying their victimisation, responding with mass demonstrations such as the Ferguson riots that challenged police brutality. The symbolic catch phrase “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gained unprecedented prominence and was a slogan replicated in demonstrations across the U.S.
Dylann Roof’s recent campaign in Charleston is of the same racial nature. The incident similarly has reinforced an impression of entrenched racism in an American society that is refusing to brandish Roof as a domestic terrorist. Images of Dylann leaving a police station wearing a bullet proof vest suggests the importance placed on his protection from rogue attackers, but also dramatically contrasts the violent images depicting the arrest of some of the names listed above.
What Obama’s comment has achieved is an acknowledgement of challenges in the U.S and that progression is bogged down by a fundamental racial prejudice. By openly commenting on the issue of race and his acceptance that the ancestral hatred of the African American communities still exists, he is refusing to allow the legacy of the civil rights movement to subside. Obama is recognising an institutional flaw and this interview suggests his optimism that the racial disparity in America can be reversed, regardless of how difficult a task this may be.
“We are not cured of it – racism… It is not a matter of not being polite to say nigger in public.”
Obama’s presidency has been troublesome to say the least, and his ambitions for the abolition of gun ownership and of a universal medical care ultimately have collapsed due to institutional gridlock. Charleston is just one of those incidents which overlap issues of race and gun ownership, but it also draws on the historical legacy of the United States over disputes whether to remove the Confederate flag from regions in the South. These discussions are still unfolding, however, the argument that the confederate flag epitomises the enslavement of the African race is not an opinion with many flaws.
U.S citizens should dismiss the exponents on the right criticising his sloppy choice of words and question where the origins of these criticisms lay. These critics are the antithesis to equality, and most probably it is these characters who are trembling in fear at Obama’s reformist attitude to race.
Obama’s use of the N word was not wrong and he should n
ot be defamed for it. Obama has presented himself as a realist and it is realism which is the decisive factor to bring about progressive change.
“Progress in a democracy is never instantaneous.” Barack Obama