Obama Warms To Speaking Personally About Race

Obama Warms To Speaking Personally About Race

Weekend Edition Saturday
National Public Radio

Linda Wertheimer, Senior National Correspondent and Host

Ari Schapiro, White House Correspondent

On race, Barack Obama often says he is not president of black America, but of the United States of America. Though he has not avoided the subject during his time in office, he tends not to seek out opportunities to discuss racial issues.

“He wanted to address them in a time and a way that accomplished specific objectives,” says Joshua Dubois, who ran the White House’s faith-based initiatives during Obama’s first term.

Obama addressed race most comprehensively in a Philadelphia speech during his first presidential campaign, after incendiary sermons by the pastor Jeremiah Wright came to light. “Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now,” he said.

A handful of other events followed in the next four years, including a White House “beer summit” between a black Harvard professor and a white police officer; and the occasional commencement address at a historically black college.

Sherrilyn Ifill, who leads the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, believes Obama’s posture is typical for African-Americans who lead racially diverse groups. “It’s not as though many of us relish wading into issues of race,” she says. “We often feel we must, or we feel compelled to, but very few of us are eager to do it, and certainly I think the president was not eager to do it.”…

…During his recent travels through Africa, Obama talked repeatedly and explicitly about the significance of his skin color. “As an African-American president, to be able to visit this site I think gives me even greater motivation in terms of defense of human rights around the world,” he said at a slave port in Senegal…

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