July 30, 2010

Did President Obama Really Say 'Mongrel'?

The President went on The View yesterday and said some more things about race that are frankly a little confusing. From the Beer Summit to the Shirley Sherrod situation, the President seems to shoot from the hip when it comes to racial issues and then deal with the damage afterwards.  Keep in mind that while the President may have known the questions in advance (I don't know for sure if that's the case), he certainly would have been unscripted as compared to a teleprompter speech. He may have had some talking points to work with, but it's a free form discussion in large part. It shouldn't come as a surprise that President Obama has some Biden-esque moments on open forum situations - coming to mind immediately are his gaffes with Jay Leno on the Special Olympics or his campaign trail talks about visiting 57 states.  But this gaffe might be more problematic.

From The Hill:
When asked about his background, which includes a black father and white mother, Obama said of African-Americans: "We are sort of a mongrel people."
"I mean we're all kinds of mixed up," Obama said. "That's actually true of white people as well, but we just know more about it."
Will comments like that hurt him with African Americans? Will it hurt him with 'white people'? It's likely to do very little damage with voters at large, but that the President would wade back into racial waters at this point seems truly odd.  Even if he was answering a question about races, there are many ways to be far more diplomatic.

In a recent AP article, there's an interesting section about Joe Hicks in relation to the Sherrod matter (emphasis added);
Joe Hicks was a black nationalist and proudly demonized whites back then. Now a conservative Republican and vice president of Community Advocates Inc. in Los Angeles, which works to improve race relations, Hicks says today that black racism is not widespread: "The average black person doesn't dislike white people."
But he does believe it has become more prevalent than white racism. "Bigotry among white Americans has been driven to the margins of society. White people fear being called a racist more than anything else. But as white people have slowly moved away from viewing themselves in a racialized way, black people have maintained their sense of racial consciousness," which sometimes leads to bias, he said.
So how will 'mongrel people' fit with that racial consciousness?  The word mongrel, true or not, is itself not very appealing a term. I can see the non-liberal comedians lining up to comment on it. Perhaps a better word might have been 'diverse'. With 95% + support in the African American community, it might not matter if the President's approval in that demographic drops a couple of points, but with falling approval numbers in general, it doesn't seem like a good idea to risk it.  Maybe the President is aware of his non-scripted shortcomings, which would explain his reluctance to have a series of town hall debates with John McCain during the 2008 campaign.  But then again, it hasn't stopped him from being the first sitting President to go on a daytime talk show.

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