During his interview with Marc Maron for the WTF podcast, President Barack Obama used the n-word in a discussion on race relations in America.
“We are not cured of [racism],” Obama said after explaining how the country had taken many positive steps toward equality since the 1950s. “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.”
Last week, Maron teased that the president came off as a “real person” during their wide-ranging conversation. He wasn’t kidding: In addition to race, Obama discussed a variety of topics during the pair’s 64-minute interview, including his relationship with Michelle Obama, his diminished basketball skills, and his favorite comedians.
“I’m a big fan, and I love conversations like this,” Obama told Maron toward the start of the interview, which took place just down the road from where the president went to school at Occidental College. “Because if I thought to myself when I was in college that I would be in a garage a couple of miles away from where I was living doing an interview as president with a comedian, I think that’s a pretty hard scenario … it’s not possible to imagine. So that’s fun.”
Ahead, the best parts of Maron’s interview with the president.
On the Charleston murders and gun violence in America
“The point I made in the immediate aftermath of the killing was that I’ve done this way too often. During the course of my presidency, it feels as if a couple of times a year, I end up having to speak to the country and to a particular community about a devastating loss. The grieving that the country feels is real. The sympathy, the prioritizing, comforting the families — all that’s important. But I think part of the point I want to make was that it’s not enough just to feel bad. There are actions that could be taken to make events like this less likely. One of those actions we could take is to enhance some basic common-sense safety laws — that, by the way, a majority of gun owners support. This is unique to our country. There is no other advanced nation on Earth that tolerates multiple shootings on a regular basis and considers it normal. To some degree, that’s what’s happened in this country. It’s become something that we expect.”
On how America’s gun laws could evolve in the future
“Unfortunately, the grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong. I don’t foresee any legislative action being taken in this Congress, and I don’t foresee any real action being taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and they say to themselves this is not normal, this is something we can change, and we’ll change it. If you don’t have that kind of public voter pressure, it’s not going to change from the inside.”
On those disappointed with his presidency
“The world’s complicated. There are choices you have to make. It turns out that the trajectory of progress always happens in fits and starts. You have these big legacy systems that you have to wrestle with — and balance what you want and where you’re going with what is and what has been. […] What I have to explain to them is progress in a democracy is never instantaneous and always partial and you can’t get cynical or frustrated because you didn’t get all the way there immediately.”
On the most frustrating moment of his presidency
“I will tell you, right after Sandy Hook, when 20 6-year-olds were gunned down, and Congress literally does nothing. Yeah. That’s the closest I came to feeling disgusted. I was pretty disgusted. That’s the exception rather than the rule, in the sense that on most fronts, I’ve been able to find ways to make progress even in the face of obstruction.”
On race relations in America
“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. 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. 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.”
On his leisure activities
“I used to play basketball more, but these days I’ve gotten to the point where it’s not as much fun — I’m not as good as I used to be and I get frustrated. […] The guys I play with who are a lot younger, they sort of pity me. They tolerate me but we all know I’m the weak link on the court. I don’t like being the weak link.”
On his relationship with Michelle
“Having grown up the way I did without a dad, moving around a lot, my mom sometimes gone because of the nature of her work, it was very important to me to be a good dad. Part of the attraction to Michelle originally — in addition to her being really good looking, smart and tough and funny — was she had this opposite experience growing up. It was really Leave It to Beaver. Dad, mom, brother lived in the same place. She helped ground me in a way that allowed my kids to have this base for themselves that I never had.
”Conversely, I think Michelle would be the first to admit that part of her attraction to me was that her living in the same place all her life in this very traditional sense sometimes made her less adventurous and less open to doing new things. So she has seen me as a way to instill in our kids a willingness to take a flier on something. Try something out. Do something new.”
On his favorite comedians
“I love comedy. Richard Pryor. Dick Gregory, when he was really on the edge. Seinfeld is a different type. Louis C.K., I love. I think Louis is terrific. He’s wonderful in such a self deprecating and edgy kind of way. Basically good-hearted even when he’s saying stuff that’s pretty wrong. There’s a goodness about him that comes through.”
On how he’s like a great comedian, and why he’d be a better president today
“In the end, what all those guys understand is, the more you do something, the more you practice it, at a certain point it becomes second nature. What I’ve always been impressed about when I listen to comics talk about comedy is how much of it is a craft. They’re thinking it through. They have a sense of when it works and when it doesn’t. The longer you do it, the better your instincts are.
“The last thing is that you lose fear. I was talking to somebody the other day about why I actually think I’m a better president, and would be a better candidate if I were running again, than I ever have been. It’s sort of like an athlete. You might slow down a little bit, you might not jump as high as I used to, but I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless. You’re not pretending to be fearless. When you get to that point…
“Part of that fearlessness is because you’ve screwed up enough times, that you know it’s all happened. I’ve been through this. I’ve screwed up. I’ve been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls. And I emerged and I lived. That’s such a liberating feeling. That’s one of the benefits of age. It almost compensates for the fact I can’t play basketball anymore.”