Transcript Excerpt: Sen. Barack Obama

Read A Transcript Excerpt Of Steve Kroft's Interview With Sen. Obama


KROFT: Your mother was white. Your father was African.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: You spent most of your life in a white household.

OBAMA: Yeah.

KROFT: I mean, you grew up white.

OBAMA: I'm not sure that would be true. I think what would be true is that I don't have the typical background of African-Americans. Not just because my mother was white, but because I grew up in Hawaii; I've spent time in Indonesia. There was all sorts of ethnicities and cultures that were swirling around my head as I was growing up. That's proven to be an enormous strength for me. It's part of the reason why I think I'm able to bring people together in ways that may be useful to the country. There were times where that was difficult. One of the things that helped me to resolve a lot of these issues is the realization that the African-American community, which I'm now very much feel a part of, is itself a hybrid community. It's African. It's European. It's Native American. So it's much more difficult to define what the essential African-American experience is, at least more difficult than what popular culture would allow. What I also realized is that the American experience is, by definition, a hybrid experience. I mean, you know one of the strengths of this country is that we have these people coming from, you know, all four corners of the globe converging, and sometimes in conflict, living side by side, and over time coming together to create this tapestry that is incredibly strong. And so, in that sense, I feel that my background ironically, because it's unusual, is quintessentially American.

KROFT: You were raised in a white household?

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: Yet at some point, you decided that you were black?

OBAMA: Well, I'm not sure I decided it. I think if you look African-American in this society, you're treated as an African-American. And when you're a child in particular that is how you begin to identify yourself. At least that's what I felt comfortable identifying myself as.

KROFT: There are blacks who say that you don't carry the psychological burden of slavery, or growing up in Harlem, or the south side of Chicago as descendants of slaves, but that you're more recent-immigrant stock.

OBAMA: Right.

KROFT: What do you make of that whole debate?

OBAMA: I think [that's] a small bunch of very intellectualized African-Americans, because that's not how I feel when I go into my barber shop to get my haircut. It's not what I experience when a cab driver drives by and waves and says, "I'm rooting for you." What I think I will plead to is a different perspective on some of the racial issues that we face in the sense that I come at it with the assumption that there is racial prejudice in our society, that we do continue to carry the historical legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. We've never fully addressed that. It manifests itself in much higher rates of poverty and violence and lack of educational achievement in minority communities. But I know in my heart that there is a core decency to the American people, and that decency can be tapped. I think America is at the point now where if a white person has the time to get to know who you are, that they are willing on average to look beyond race and judge you as an individual. That doesn't mean that they've stopped making snap judgments. It doesn't mean that before I was Barack Obama, and I was just Barack Obama, that if I got into an elevator, a woman might not clutch her purse a little tighter. Or if I'm walking down the street, that you might not hear some clicks of doors locking, right. I mean, there's still a host of stereotypes that I think a lot of people are operating under. But I think if they have time to get to know you, they will judge you as they would judge anybody else, and I think that's enormous progress. We've made progress. Yes, things are better. But better is not good enough. And we've still got a long way to go.

KROFT: You think the country's ready for a black President?

OBAMA: Yes.

KROFT: You don't think it's going to hold you back?

OBAMA: No. I think if I don't win this race, it will be because of other factors. It's going to be because I have not shown to the American people a vision for where the country needs to go that they can embrace.
  • Daniel Schorn

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