Obama Spoke Frankly About People Who See Him, A Black Man, As 'Other'

"Post-racial America" did not happen under his watch.

To many people, Barack Obama's election meant that the country was poised for a new era — a post-racial era, if you will. Eight years later, it seems that the opposite is true. Race relations in America today are more overtly contentious than in the past couple of decades. And while it may have been simmering under the surface for a bit of time, for many, it feels as though racial tensions have spiked. Ironically, under the watch of the first African American president. 

The deterioration of race relations as one of President Obama's legacies was a topic that CNN's Fareed Zakaria explored in a primetime special aired Wednesday evening. In the interview, Obama talked candidly about the racism he experienced as a black president. 

"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 told Zakaria. "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."


Obama also said race isn't genetic, but a cultural concept. "It's this notion of a people who look different than the mainstream," he said, "suffering terrible oppression but somehow being able to make out of that a music, and a language, and a faith, and a patriotism."

Although Obama didn't see racism as a major part of the GOP opposition to him, his advisors did. David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to Obama, told CNN, "It's indisputable that there was a ferocity to the opposition and a lack of respect to him that was a function of race."

Throughout Obama's two terms there has been fierce opposition to his policies, but much of it was tinged with an element of racial hostility. And president-elect Donald Trump's rise played on that; he was the peddler-in-chief of the racist "birther" movement challenging the first black president's legitimacy.

At a NATO summit in Poland in July, Obama spoke about race relations in America. 

"The legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination didn't suddenly vanish with the passage of the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, or the election of Barack Obama. Things have gotten better — substantially better — but we've still got a lot more work to do," he said, noting that change takes time. "If my voice has been true and positive, then my hope would be that it may not fix everything right away. That's OK. We plant seeds, and somebody else maybe sits under the shade of the tree that we planted. And I'd like to think that, as best as I could, I have been true in speaking about these issues."

Cover image via Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com


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