For people following President Barack Obama, it sometimes seems like he wants to discuss anything but race. But perhaps to the surprise of some, he has spoken about the subject frankly on more than one occasion.
What started with mourning turned into a call for actual steps towards improving the lives of Black Americans. The shooting in Charleston, S.C., that left nine members of the Emanuel AME church in the city dead hung over the week. It would get somewhat lost in a side debate over the N-Word when Obama dropped it during a podcast with a comedian, Marc Maron. Amid a week of historic Supreme Court rulings, Obama still had to steer the ship of racism when he visited Charleston for the funeral of the late Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down in the attack on Emanuel AME church during bible study.
But these were not the only few times he shared his honest thoughts about race relations in the U.S. While President Obama would shy away from the subject for his first term, he did use subtle cues to acknowledge or almost wink at his Black constituency. But after being re-elected, he would break character more to tackle the matter.
These are a few of the more notable times he gave an honest take on race.
Obama in 2013: The Trayvon Martin Verdict
In 2012, Obama made the remark that Travyon Martin could have been his son, but this comment would become fodder for a GOP party looking to win the 2012 election. He then largely avoided discussing race through his re-election, and it seemed like it would remain that way into his second term. When the verdict came down, he at first issued a press statement on the subject. As the verdict and protests began to dominate the news cycle, it became clear that the subject was not going away.
About a week after the verdict, Obama made an unscheduled appearance in the White House Press Room, shocking the few reporters who actually showed up for the routine presser. While this was probably a strategic move on his part, it appears that his decision to speak was a spontaneous one promoted by feelings and thoughts he had rarely shared up until that point. Not since his 2008 A Better Union speech had he spent so much time talking about racism and how it affects the African-American community.
Obama in 2014: Discussing Race With BET
In a rather surprising move, shortly after the grand jury decision not to indict NYPD office Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold death of Eric Garner, Obama decided to give an exclusive interview to BET about race relations. A few years before, he did a video interview with Black Enterprise, and largely said that he was the president of every group in the U.S.
Obama in 2014: The PEOPLE Magazine Interview On Racism And Stereotypes
It was also a bit surprising he addressed racism in an interview for PEOPLE magazine. Here he is joined by First Lady Michelle as they both touch on past experiences dealing with racism.
Obama in 2015: Selma And The Discussion On Air Force One
For the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, President Obama would give one of his biggest speeches on race to date. However, what some may not know about is the interview he gave beforehand. As he traveled to Alabama on Air Force One, five Black journalists joined him on the flight and were each given a chance to ask him a question. The journalists, writing for publications such as the New York Times, ESSENCE and Grantland, published their stories after the anniversary. Separately each answer is interesting, but together they all are revelatory.
Obama in 2015: Talking the Baltimore Riots with Dave Letterman
This was a rather unusual moment for him to discuss race. Usually his trips to late night shows are to promote something or to get out of Washington and connect with the American people. Sometimes it is both. In this case, however, he was there to bid farewell to Letterman before his retirement. Perhaps it was unavoidable given the tensions in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, but the President gave a nuanced answer about the situation. Unlike his previous comments on Baltimore, his remarks here were less angled toward explaining what happened in Baltimore to mainstream America.
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