President Obama Used the N-Word in a Message That Makes Us All Very Uncomfortable

marc maronThis weekend on Marc Maron's wildly popular podcast "WTF" President Obama used the N-word to make a point about racism in America. It wasn't very polite, but it sure made us pay attention to what he was saying.

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First Obama pointed out that America has come a long way in changing race relations in the past century.

I always tell young people in particular: Do not say that nothing has changed when it comes to race in America, unless you 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. That opportunities have opened up and attitudes have changed. That is a fact.

But we're not yet living in a post-racial world, either. And I'm glad the president pointed that out. It's important that we hear this from a biracial leader. And I think he's smart to describe racism as a disease we're trying to cure.

What is also true is that 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. We are not cured of it. Racism. We are not cured of it.

And then the president brought up the N-word, which was bold of him. 

It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n—– in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not a matter of overt discrimination. Societies do not just, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.

As a biracial man President Obama has his own relationship with the word, and can own it in a way I, as a white (well, Latina, but still) person can't. Obama is speaking like a grownup, and he's owning the word, and he's using it carefully to make a point about racism. I think the only people who will have a problem with that are people who are always already looking for more reasons to hate him.

But I think Obama's point may be harder to swallow for some people than the language he used. (You can hear Marc Maron's podcast online.) I've stopped feeling surprised every time I hear someone respond defensively about racism. "Not everything is about race!" "Quit making everything about race!" "I'm colorblind." "I don't see color." "I'm so sick of people playing the race card."

More from The Stir: Racism, Riots & the N-Word: The Talk You're Afriad to Have With Your Kids

Hearing people's demands that we recognize our white privilege and do some self examination makes us so very uncomfortable. But that's a good thing.

It is by recognizing discomfort, sitting with it, being curious about it that we grow. So the next time racism comes up and you feel yourself resisting as a reflex, STOP and think about what's making you itch. 

Is it the implication that you're a racist? What if we thought about racism not as something that defines us as good/bad people, but as a disease we all have traces of, that we want to cure ourselves of? What if you felt like you had my support in curing yourself of racism, because I need your support in curing my racism? 

If you offend someone that doesn't make you a "bad" person -- it just means you have something to learn. Most of us are basically "good" people who know we could be better. And I think we can get there if we stop feeling defensive and start being more open to change and supportive of each other.

How do you feel when someone accuses you of racism?

 

Image via Marc Maron/Facebook

 

 

 

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