Barack Obama openly addressed the racism he’s faced as US president

Election night, 2012.
Election night, 2012.
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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As he nears the end of his term, and prepares to be succeeded by one of the ringleaders of a racist campaign to undermine his legitimacy, US president Barack Obama offered some candid thoughts about race in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, aired on Dec. 8.

“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.”

In the 2012 election, Obama fared much better among whites in the North than in the South. While his national average among white voters was 39%, he got just 15% of the white vote in Alabama, and just 10% in Mississippi, versus 48% in Wisconsin and 51% in Iowa.

“It’s indisputable that there was a ferocity to the opposition and a lack of respect to him that was a function of race,” David Axelrod, his former advisor, said in CNN’s two-hour special on Obama.

Indeed, many have argued that Donald Trump’s election as the country’s next president arose out of a white backlash against the nation’s first black president. Trump, of course, was an early and vocal supporter of the “birther” theory that Obama was not in fact born in the United States, and he only admitted he was wrong in September of this year.

Zakaria asked Obama if was comfortable with being characterized as the first African-American president, despite being half-white and raised by three white people.

“I am, actually,” he said. “The concept of race in America isn’t just genetic,” but cultural, he argued, noting that people “who look different than the mainstream” and are “suffering terrible oppression” can out of that make “a music, a language, and a faith, and a patriotism.”