Meh-trage: Obama uses N-word to discuss progress on racial division

Lots of media outlets have written headlines like this to grab readers and troll for attention, but at least thus far the commentariat isn’t taking the bait.

The Today show dedicated a segment to President Obama’s remarks to comedian Marc Maron today:

CNN also reports this morning about Obama’s use of language:

“I always tell young people, in particular, do not say that nothing has changed when it comes to race in America, unless you’ve lived through being a black man in the 1950s or ’60s or ’70s. It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours,” Obama said.

But he added that “the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination” exists in institutions and casts “a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on.”

Obama used the N-word and explained that the absence of racist language does not mean that racism doesn’t exist.

“Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n****r in public,” Obama said. “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.”

NBC bleeped out the word, and I’ve used asterisks here, since (a) I find the word utterly repugnant, and (b) we flag comments for moderation and deletion that use it, because we often find it used in a repugnant manner. That doesn’t make Obama’s explicit citation of it in this podcast repugnant or wrong; he’s citing it to argue against its use, and in a way to highlight some of the progress in race relations over the last few decades. It may sound jarring coming out of the mouth of a President, but it’s used to make a point about its unacceptability. That’s undoubtedly why most people will shrug and wonder why the media’s making a fuss about it.

A better question would be why Obama’s doing podcasts with comedians in the first place. Doesn’t he have more pressing matters to attend to, like fighting ISIS and working on budgets and legislation? If Obama has something to share with the American people, the White House has a full room of media correspondents assigned to cover his every expressed thought and those of his staff. The 2012 media strategy of concentrating on entertainment outlets may have paid off in the election, but he won. Shouldn’t he start getting serious about his job now?

On that note, the Today show didn’t miss the actual story here. Despite Obama’s insistence on talking about guns and racial harmony, he’s not actually going to do much about either. Obama sounds more like an ex-president here than someone who sees 19 months of opportunity ahead of him — a commentator, not an active player. Obama appears to have fully embraced his inner lame duck.