Earlier this week, Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, jumped on Marc Maron’s popular podcast and engaged in a well-received and wide-ranging discussion that touched on, among other things, the progress of race relations in the U.S., particularly in the context of last week’s attack on the landmark Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by an avowed Confederate-flag waving segregationist and white supremacist. This is an entirely reasonable thing for the first African-American president to publicly discuss (actually, an entirely reasonable thing for any president to discuss, really). The only reason this particular appearance garnered any more attention than, say, unveiling the White House NCAA tournament bracket or reading “Mean Tweets” on Kimmel is that at one point during Maron’s podcast, President Obama made what some might call a bold move. Let’s look at the quote.
OBAMA: We’re not cured of it.
OBAMA: Racism – we are not cured of it.
OBAMA: 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.
Whoa! But also, I mean, while you kind of started when you first read the n-word, in context it’s a pretty reasonable statement, right? Right! Except that it also caused a good chunk of the Internet to briefly come alllllll the way unglued. From one Todd Starnes:
What President Obama said is indefensible. It soils the dignity of the Oval Office. For goodness sake. He’s the president of the United States, not a hip-hop artist.
Nice scorching take! But a certain Deenan Borelli thinks we can phrase that dig in an even more direct and offensive way:
So now he’s the first President of rap, of street?…This is all a grand distraction to take away from the people uniting and then the President In Chief, the rapper-in-chief now, is further dividing our country.
Sidebar, if I’m President Obama and I hear that, I’m immediately ordering a set of alternate White House business cards that prominently displays my title as “First President of Rap, of Street; Rapper-in-Chief.”
Not to be outdone, over at CNN, noted women’s self-defense expert Don Lemon took the whole “picture is worth a thousand words” thing as a personal challenge, and it…did not go well.
Well, if by “this” you mean “the image on my television screen right now but also my television screen whenever you are on it,” then, I mean, give me a harder question next time.
Of course, most people don’t use the n-word anymore because of, you know, its origins as a horrible racial slur that all at once recalls slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and the like. Fortunately, these are portions of history with which few want to be associated anymore. But even outside that context, people still usually decide to ix-nay the word-nay because its usage, even when genuinely intended to be innocuous, is just so, so charged with emotion. And I get that. As a general matter, when in doubt, it’s probably better to err on the side of “not deeply offending literally all of the people within earshot right now.”
That said, Todd, Deenan, and Don (the commentators above, but also probably an up-and-coming bluegrass band from Asheville) need to sit back, put on their favorite T-Pain deep cut, and calm the fuck down. When President Obama, the first black president of the United States, decides to use the n-word while engaged in a nuanced intellectual discourse regarding race relations in 21st century America, that’s an entirely reasonable decision. Whether using the word is a good idea for anyone else in a given context is a matter between them, their maker, and their ability to follow this simple flow chart. Good luck out there.