President Obama is less interested in whether people perceive him as black or multi-racial, he said on ABC's "The View" today, and more interested in seeing people treat each other with respect.
When asked by Barbara Walters why he does not identify himself as biracial, Mr. Obama said that after going through an "identity crisis" as a teenager, he realized "if the world saw me as African American, then that was something I needn't run away from, that's something that I could go ahead and embrace."
He added, however, "I'm less interested in how we label ourselves, I'm more interested in how we treat each other. And if we're treating each other right, then I can be African American, I can be multi-racial, I can be you name it, what matter is, am I showing people respect, am I caring for other people."
The president acknowledged that the recent debacle over former Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod proved that racial tensions still exist in the nation.
"There are still inequalities out there. There's still discrimination out there," he said. "But we've made progress."
He said, however, that the firestorm over Sherrod was a "phony controversy" generated by the media. He acknowledged his administration overreacted by forcing Sherrod out of her position after a conservative website published an edited video misleadingly suggested she discriminated against a white farmer.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since apologized and offered Sherrod a new job at the department.
The criticism the administration faced for its treatment of Sherrod was just one more burden on the White House in an already difficult month. When asked what the low point has been, Mr. Obama joked, "Where do I begin."
"Obviously the country has gone through a tough stretch. Since I took office when I was sworn in ... the last 20 months have been a nonstop effort to restart the economy, to stabilize the financial system, to make sure we are creating jobs and not losing them," Obama said. "As much as you've been saying it's tough for me, the truth is, it's not tough for me. You know, I've got pundits on the news who might say things, but what the American people have gone through -- losing jobs, seeing their home values go down, their 401ks declining -- those are the people that I draw inspiration from because I get letters every night from them and I read them."The president said that while there was a sense of hopefulness in the country after his election, he thinks that people did not anticipate how bad the economy would be. Many of the steps his administration took in response to the economic decline, such as bailing out the auto industry, became controversial, he said.
He added, however, "We live at a time when a lot of people are thinking about the next election instead of the next generation."
The high point for the month, Mr. Obama said, was a family vacation to Maine with his daughters Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9.
"The girls are getting old enough now where they're not quite teenagers yet, so they still like you," he said. "They are full of opinions and ideas and observations and it's just a great age."
The president received some criticism for appearing the talk show. He joked on the show that he decided to appear on "The View" since First Lady Michelle Obama enjoys it.
"I was trying to find a show that Michelle actually watched, and so I thought this is it, right here," he said.