Even the leader of the free world is not immune to prevalent racism.
With his eight-year term coming to a saddening close, President Barack Obama sat down with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria to address the discrimination and bigotry he faced throughout his time in the White House.
During the two-hour special report, titled “The Legacy of Barack Obama,” the nation’s first black president said the color of his skin “absolutely” contributed to white Americans’ negative perceptions of his presidency.
“I think there’s a reason why attitudes about my presidency among whites in Northern states are very different from whites in Southern states,” Obama said. “Are there folks whose primary concern about me has been that I seem foreign, the other? Are those who champion the ‘birther’ movement feeding off of bias? Absolutely.”
As he prepares to succeed to Donald Trump, the ringleader of the so-called birther movement who repeatedly demanded Obama to present his birth certificate and raised doubts about his legitimacy as a U.S. citizen, the departing president clarified he didn’t view racism as the driving force behind the GOP officials opposing his policies.
He claimed the discrimination mostly existed on the “political fringe.”
However, those who worked with him had a slightly different opinion.
“It's indisputable that there was a ferocity to the opposition and a lack of respect to him that was a function of race,” Obama's former senior adviser David Axelrod told CNN.
He also recalled a moment when an influential Republican official told the president, “You know, we don't really think you should be here, but the American people thought otherwise so we're going to have to work with you.”
“He never ran to be the first black president. He ran to be the president of the United States and he happens to be black,” Axelrod added. “He needed to become a force for healing, and finding the right way to do that was something that he wrestled with.”
Meanwhile, when Zakaria brought his heritage up, the president said he does not mind being defined as America’s first black president — despite being half-white and raised by three white people: his mother Ann Dunham and grandparents Stanley and Madelyn Dunham.
“The concept of race in America is not just genetic, otherwise the one-drop rule wouldn't have made sense,” Obama explained. “It's cultural. It's this notion of a people who look different than the mainstream, suffering terrible oppression, but somehow being able to make out of that a music and a language and a faith and a patriotism.”
It’s rather tragic that America is going to replace a president who could relate to the sentiments of the minorities with a racist bigot who was endorsed by white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups.