Obama says US racism 'not cured,' makes point with epithet

Obama On Podcast: America Not Cured Of Racism

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says the history of slavery is "still part of our DNA" in the United States, even if racial epithets no longer show up in polite conversation. He uttered the N-word in making his point.

In an interview, Obama talked about the debates over race and guns that have erupted after the arrest of a white man in the racially motivated shooting deaths of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina.

"Racism, we are not cured of it," Obama said. "And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don't, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior."

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Obama says US racism 'not cured,' makes point with epithet
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: U.S. President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, makes a statement regarding the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015 at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Lexington County, South Carolina, as a suspect in last night's deadly shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: U.S. President Barack Obama walks towards Marine One for a departure after he making a statement regarding the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015 at the White House in Washington, DC. Authorities have arrested 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Lexington County, South Carolina, as a suspect in last night's deadly shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the launch of a nonprofit group, My Brother's Keeper Alliance at Lehman College in the Bronx borough on May 4, 2015 in New York City. The President arrived in New York City for several appearances including a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman. In the afternoon speech at the college the President addressed the racially charged turmoil in Baltimore and other American cities. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama pauses while speaking after meeting with elected officials, community leaders and law enforcement officials on building trust in communities after Ferguson unrest on December 1, 2014 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) delivers remarks at the end of a meeting with (L-R) New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Philadelphia Police Department Commissioner Charles Ramsey and other elected officials, community and faith leaders and law enforcement officials in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building December 1, 2014 in Washington, DC. After the recent civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country in the wake of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown and the lack of charges against the police officer who shot him, Obama discussed ways for 'communities and law enforcement can work together to build trust to strengthen neighborhoods across the country.' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walk through the Colonnade to deliver remarks on gun control on April 17, 2013 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks on gun control on April 17, 2013 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. Obama on Wednesday slammed what he called a 'minority' in the US Senate for blocking legislation that would have expanded background checks on those seeking to buy guns. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama is accompanied by vice president Joe Biden (2nd-L) and family members of Newtown school shooting victims as he speaks on gun control at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2013. Obama on Wednesday slammed what he called a 'minority' in the US Senate for blocking legislation that would have expanded background checks on those seeking to buy guns. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
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Obama's remarks came during an interview out Monday with comedian Marc Maron for his popular podcast, where coarse language is often part of the discussion. The president uttering a racial slur aloud stirred controversy, especially on social media, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said later Monday that wasn't surprising.

Obama didn't plan in advance to use the word to be provocative, Earnest said, but was simply making a point during a casual, free-flowing interview. He said he didn't recall ever hearing the president say the racial slur aloud before, but noted that it did appear in his book, "Dreams from My Father."

In the interview, Obama said while attitudes about race have improved significantly since he was born to a white mother and black father, the legacy of slavery "casts a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on."

He also expressed frustration that "the grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong" and prevented gun control from advancing in Congress after 20 children and six educators were massacred in a Connecticut elementary school in 2012.

"I will tell you, right after Sandy Hook, Newtown, when 20 6-year-olds are gunned down, and Congress literally does nothing — yes, that's the closest I came to feeling disgusted," he said. "I was pretty disgusted."

He said it's important to respect that hunting and sportsmanship are important to a lot of gun-owning Americans. "The question is just is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with some common-sense stuff that prevents a 21-year-old who is angry about something or confused about something, or is racist, or is deranged from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing, and can do enormous harm," Obama said in a reference to suspect Dylann Storm Roof, whose purported 2,500-word hate-filled manifesto talked about white supremacy. Roof faces nine counts of murder in connection with Wednesday's shooting.

Obama sat for the interview Friday in Maron's Los Angeles garage studio — close to where the president attended Occidental College — and seemed to marvel at the absurdity of it. "If I thought to myself that when I was in college that I'd be in a garage a couple miles away from where I was living, doing an interview as president, with a comedian ... it's not possible to imagine," he said. But he said he did the interview because he wants to reach a nontraditional audience and "break out of these old patterns that our politics has fallen into" where "it's not this battle in a steel cage between one side and another."

With the campaign to replace him heating up, Obama said he thinks he would be a better candidate if he were running again, because although he's slowed down a little bit, "I know what I'm doing and I'm fearless."

"I've screwed up. I've been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls. And I emerged and I lived. And that's always such a liberating feeling," he said.

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Associated Press writer Connie Cass contributed to this report.

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Follow Nedra Pickler on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nedrapickler

This story has been corrected to show that this is not the first presidential podcast.​

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