As he prepares to leave the White House in January, President Barack Obama got candid about the racial barriers he faced as America’s first 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 CNN’s Fareed Zakaria during a December 7 special report called “The Legacy of Barack Obama.” “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.”
The president specified that he believes the Republicans who oppose him purely for racial reasons are a small fringe group, although his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, had a different take on the difficulties Obama has faced as president.
“It’s indisputable that there was a ferocity to the opposition and a lack of respect to him that was a function of race,” said Axelrod, who now works as a political commentator for CNN.
The special report examined the president’s role in history, both in breaking racial barriers and leading the country during a period marked by violence against unarmed black men and police officers. Despite his historical election, the majority of Americans believe that race relations have gotten worse over the course of his presidency, with a full 60 percent of likely U.S. voters saying in a July Rasmussen Reports poll that they had worsened over the last eight years.
Obama has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle for his responses to the violent incidents over the years, with some calling on him to align himself with the Black Lives Matter movement and denounce police who shoot unarmed black men and others saying that he neglects the struggles of police officers and should not support protesters.
“He never ran to be the first black president,” Axelrod told CNN. “He ran to be the president of the United States and he happens to be black. He needed to become a force for healing, and finding the right way to do that was something that he wrestled with.”
Sources: CNN, Rasmussen Reports / Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr