Anderson Cooper featured an interview last night with former President Barack Obama, who talked about the role played by race in the American consciousness.
"It was during President Obama's eight years in the White House the American public began learning and saying the names Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Young black men killed by police, and in Trayvon Martin's case, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, when Martin was 17 years old," Cooper said.
"President Obama was both praised and criticized for that statement, one of several reminders for the first black American president that how and when he discussed race was something he and his advisors had to think carefully about. In his book, he writes that early on in his presidential campaign, his advisors warned him about being boxed in as, quote, 'the black candidate.' "
"Looking back as president, did you tell the story of race in America enough, do you think?" Anderson Cooper asked.
"Yeah, well, look, I tried. I think I told a lot of stories. You take a look at the speeches I gave in Selma and the speech I gave during the campaign about Reverend Wright and that episode and each and every time, I tried to describe why it is that we are still not fully reconciled with our history," Obama said.
"But the fact is that it is a hard thing to hear. It's hard for the majority in this country of white Americans to recognize that look, you can be proud of this country and its traditions and history and our forefathers and yet, it's also true that this terrible stuff happened and that, you know, vestiges of that linger and continues and the truth is when I tried to tell that story, oftentimes my political opponents would deliberately not only block out that story, but try to exploit it for their own political gain.
"I tell the story in the book about the situation where (Henry) Skip Gates, a Harvard professor who is trying to get into his own house, gets arrested and I'm asked about it."
"And not only did that cause a firestorm, as you will recall, you were already in the press at that time, but subsequent polling showed that my support among white voters dropped more precipitously after that -- what should have been a minor trivial incident than anything else during my presidency."
He said the reaction shows the extent to which these things are still deep in us.
"And sometimes unconscious, but I also think that there is right wing media that monetize and capitalize on stoking the fear and resentment of a white population that is witnessing a changing America and seeing demographic changes and do everything they can to give people a sense that their way of life is threatened and that people are trying to take advantage of them. And we're seeing it right now where you would think with all the public policy debates that are taking place right now, that the Republican party would be engaged in a significant debate about how are we going to deal with the economy and what are we going to do about climate change and what are we going to do about -- and lo and behold, the single most important issue to them apparently right now is critical race theory. Who knew that was the threat to our Republic?
"But those debates are powerful because they get at what story do we tell about ourselves."