President Obama sat down with David Remnick of the New Yorker for a post-election interview in which he touched on how explosive the subject of race can be.
“I reminded Obama that, eight years ago, when I was interviewing him about race, he had been somewhat elusive throughout our official session but afterward had tracked me down in the building to remind me how complicated it was for him to talk about the subject,” Remnick wrote for the magazine’s Nov. 28 issue. “A stray word about race could be as explosive as a stray word about the financial markets. He remembered.”
Below are more highlights from the interview, via Journal-isms.
“ ‘There are certain things we know,’ he said. ‘We know that when there is a conversation about the police and African-Americans, and conflict between those two, everybody goes to their respective corners. That is an area that just triggers the deepest stereotypes and assumptions — on both sides. The biggest drop that I had in my poll numbers in my first six months had nothing to do with the economy. It was ‘the beer summit.’ ”
Obama hosted a “beer summit” with fifty-eight-year-old black Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who had been arrested and handcuffed at his home by an over zealous white police officer. White folks became enraged because they thought Obama was taking Gates’s side, and, hoping to quiet the storm, the White House arranged a sitdown over beers between the professor and the policeman.
“Among white voters, my poll numbers dropped, like, I don’t know, ten per cent or something,’ Obama continued. “If you don’t stick your landing in talking about racial issues, particularly when it pertains to the criminal-justice system, then people just shut down. They don’t listen.”
“He thought back to that fateful day in August. ‘I thought that it would be fairly innocuous to say, “I don’t know all the facts, but if you’ve got an elderly black gentleman — even if he’s being obnoxious to a police officer — handcuffing him probably doesn’t make sense if he’s on his own porch. I thought that would be viewed as a pretty common-sense proposition. It was a pretty visceral reaction.’
Obama also discussed his likely plans after he leaves office.