by Eric Ratinoff
As you may have heard, the President said the n-word this week.
And though he said it on the WTF with Marc Maron podcast, in the context of a much larger discussion about race relations in America, itself part of an hour-long interview that also explored (among other things) identity, gun laws, and Richard Pryor — and said it to make the point that just because it’s no longer okay to say that word in public, it doesn’t mean we’ve wiped out racism — news outlets reacted as though the sole reason he sat down with Maron was to utter that one word, and thus further divide the country over race.
While it’s by now predictable that the media-industrial complex will freak out about things like this, it’s still frustrating and disappointing to see a thoughtful, nuanced conversation about a complicated, difficult topic once again get boiled down to a hysterical reaction about the use of one word.
To be clear, conversations about language are worthwhile. Language matters.
But to fixate on one word misses the very point the President was trying to make — not to mention all of the larger, more complex things he was, you know, actually talking about. And while it’s foolish to hope the media might devote time to those more complex points — or anything that can’t be compressed into a 30-second sound bite — here’s hoping all the hubbub prompts some people to actually listen to the full podcast.
As he says in the interview, one reason President Obama was willing to open up and talk candidly about race in this setting was because a podcast, unlike a press conference, lends itself to honesty, reflection, and in-depth conversation. It’s personal, because it’s an open-ended discussion between two human beings.
It also helps that for all his neuroticism, which he often shares at length, Marc Maron knows how to listen.
In case you missed it in the photo above, there’s a small sign, stashed above the bookshelves in Maron’s garage, that captures not only Maron’s podcasting philosophy, but a pretty good credo when it comes to conversations about race, gender, religion, or any other area where our differences may divide us. The sign reads: