(Getty/Spencer Platt)

Former President Barack Obama says "racism" and "mommy issues" stunt progress in the US

"Most of the problems that we confront in the world do not exist, because we don't have good solutions to them"


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Rachel Leah
November 21, 2018 1:58AM (UTC)

Former President Barack Obama addressed some of America's most-pressing problems, education and climate change among them, during the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Monday night.

What prevents us from solving them? According to 44, it is "not the absence of technical solutions" but rather deep-seated hate that has not been disinfected from our country's DNA.

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"Most of the problems that we confront in the world do not exist, because we don't have good solutions to them," Obama said. But the U.S. has struggled to progress, "because we are still confused, blind, shrouded with hate, anger, racism, mommy issues," he added to audience laughter.

It was a powerful display and acknowledgement of not just the structural barriers that keep America unequal – whether it be institutionalized racism, sexism or other forms of bigotry and discrimination – but the fact that these systems have perpetuated from an active choice by those in power over generations.

The former president gave several examples. He said that, in every city across America – even in the poorest communities – you can find "one amazing school." It's got, like, a 98 percent graduation rate. And everybody's in the chess club, and they put on plays," Obama continued. "And the question is: Well, why doesn't this scale up?"

He argued, then, that the reason successful schools are not replicated widely is not because they cost an insurmountable amount of money but rather due to other variants. "Do we really care about these kids?" Obama questioned. The former president said our inability to resolve racial and ethnic differences from colonialism and other racial caste systems continues to inform and stunt progress and blocks the U.S. from achieving a fully-realized democracy.

"We are fraught with stuff, and so if that is the case, then the single most important thing we have to invest in . . . is people," Obama said. "We have got to get people to figure out how they work together in a cooperative, thoughtful, constructive way."

Obama added that people "literally can remake the world right now," which "badly needs remaking."

The Chicago politician also spoke of his own disillusionment of climbing the political ranks, imagining with each new arena he entered that he would have more of an immediate impact. He said this idea is what led him from community organizer, to the state legislator, to the Senate and ultimately to the presidency. However, Obama said the "same dynamics" of resistance to change followed – even when there was a "bigger spotlight" and stage.

While it is true that Obama has reached the highest office in the land and has had access to significant power and influence, it is undeniable that he has been among the most reviled presidents in history, subjected to rampant racism and roadblocks. One telling fact is that so much of President Donald Trump's work, including from those in his Cabinet, has been rolling back Obama-era policies — from the Department of Justice to the Department of Education.

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So who has "mommy issues?" Obama did not specifically name Trump, and he has been wary to do so. But Trump has not shied away from scapegoating Obama. After the leading the birther conspiracy while he was president, 45 has continued to antagonize him throughout his first two years in office.


Rachel Leah

Rachel Leah is a culture writer for Salon. You can follow her on Twitter: @rachelkleah.

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