Obama, in 1995: ‘My grandmother, while she loves me, still has a fear of strange black men.’

In October 1995, then law-school lecturer and new author Barack Obama did an interview with The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP. The interview has now been posted to Google Books; to the best of my knowledge, Obama’s comments in this interview have not yet been brought to light elsewhere in the media. Images of the magazine pages can be found here.

A couple of the more notable comments:

Crisis: How do you feel to hear people say mixed-race children are children in limbo?

Obama: In a society as divided as we are, there are certain problems you can confront if you know your white side of the family. If I”m looking into the face of my mother, those kids of differences do arise. Take my grandmother, while she loves me, she still has a fear of strange black men. For her, her suspicions and fears are real. We all confront that to varying degrees along the spectrum . . . It’s on the nightly news.

In May 2008, the Jeremiah Wright sermons came to light, and Obama discussed his grandmother in his widely analyzed speech on race relations. Some called his criticism of his grandmother, and equating her comments to Wright’s sermons, “throwing grandma under the bus.” But this interview indicates Obama cited his grandmother as an example of white racism for many years before he ran for president.

Crisis: Looking to the future, do you think race will play a major role among people, or will economics and classism dictate how we define ourselves?

Obama: Yes. The world will look like Brazil, with its racial mix. Folks love Michael Jordan. He’s as black as my father was. People don’t think of (Jordan) as black. Integration is not a victory on our part. And while I’m not advocating segregation, in segregated black communities, there was a lot to be grateful for. There were black doctors, black lawyers. They didn’t leave the black community when they became successful, like so many successful blacks do today.

Crisis: Will race relations get better?

Obama: Not in the short term. We’re moving out of a period of American preeminence on the world economic stage. Global competition means increasing economic uncertainty for the majority of Americans, black and white. Unfortunately, politicians in this country find it convenient to define these problems in racial terms — affirmative action, immigration and so on. It’s always easier to organize people around tribe than around principle.

These last comments are rather fascinating, as the young Obama expressed a belief that America was in economic decline just as the 1990s boom was picking up steam, peaking with the dot-com mania of the late 1990s.

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