Trevor Noah devoted the entire “Daily Show” on Monday night to an interview with President Obama, which was pre-taped at the White House. The two clearly had a lot to discuss. At the end, Noah asked the president a personal question – how he navigates questions about race.
“You’d think diplomacy is key here, but believe it or not, that’s not always the case,” the President replied. “We live in a country in which race is still a hugely important factor in everyday life, not just for me and you, but more importantly, for all Americans. And as long as we keep having to convince ourselves that racism doesn’t really exist, we’ll be in the wrong. Because, the sad truth is that, despite all of our efforts, racism is always going to be present and it’s always going to play a crucial role in every aspect of our daily lives.”
“That being said,” President Obama continued, “as someone who is a child of both black and white parents, there are situations in which I really have to dig deep and ask myself, ‘How are you going to handle this one?’ Because, regardless of the fact that I know who I am and what I stand for, sometimes you just aren’t able to be at peace with both of your halves. And that’s when I just have to decide how I’m going to react, and whether that’s going to be as a person who’s half-white or half-black.”
The President also said that he is required to apologize “every single day” for the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, “because I feel a shared responsibility for those things through my white half.” “And it is that half that feels incredibly guilty for what other white people have done to African Americans in this country. I think about it when I wake up in the morning, I think about it on the job, I even think about it when I go to bed at night.”
“And the fact to the matter is – I can’t let go,” he said. “I can’t let go of the fact that 50 percent of me feels guilty, and the other 50 percent feels both hurt and relieved that the first 50 percent is feeling guilty. It’s strange, it’s as if a part of me is relieved that the other part feels some semblance of consciousness and remorse, even though it had no direct participation in the oppression. A very bizarre sensation, I’ll tell you that much.”
The president also argued, “At the end of the day, not a moment goes by that I don’t apologize on behalf of my white half for the legacies of Jim Crow and slavery to all the black people in this country. And to make matters even more confusing, I start off my apology by apologizing to my black half first. Then I move on and think about every single black person that’s ever suffered at the hand of a white man in this country. And I can’t shake the horrible feeling that I’ll never be able to apologize enough,” he concluded.