President Obama took direct aim at GOP nominee Donald Trump’s assertion that conditions for African Americans now are worse than they have been at any time in U.S. history, saying in an interview aired Friday that even young children know better than that.
“You know, I think even most 8-year-olds’ll tell you that whole slavery thing wasn’t very good for black people,” said Obama in an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts that was taped Thursday in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture ahead of its opening. “Jim Crow wasn’t very good for black people.”
Trump has suggested repeatedly that black Americans should vote for him because of the dire circumstances they now face, saying in August in Michigan, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
“Our African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before,” Trump said during a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday. “Ever, ever, ever.”
The president first questioned this idea last Saturday, telling the Congressional Black Caucus, “You may have heard Hillary’s opponent in this election say that there’s never been a worse time to be a black person. I mean, he missed that whole civics lesson about slavery and Jim Crow … but we’ve got a museum for him to visit. So he can tune in. We will educate him.”
But his latest remarks, which aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America” as part of a joint interview with his wife, Michelle, were even sharper. Obama, who will speak at the museum’s opening Saturday, emphasized that Americans need to understand the impact of discrimination will take decades to undo.
“It’s unrealistic to think that somehow that all just completely went away, because the Civil Rights Act was passed or because Oprah’s making a lot of money or because I was elected president,” he said. “You know, that’s not how society works. And if you have hundreds of years of racial discrimination it’s likely that the vestiges of that discrimination linger on. And we should acknowledge that and own that.”
Michelle Obama said the museum’s collection highlighted Americans’ ability to rise above past wrongs.
“We’ve been through so much. And we’ve overcome so much,” she said. “After you see what we’ve been through, there’s nothing we can’t handle as a community and as a nation.”
Addressing the ongoing and sometimes violent protests in Charlotte in the wake of this week’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Obama said the fact that so many people of color see racial bias in the system should prompt Americans to ask themselves “tough questions. Are we teaching our kids to see people for their character and not for their color?”
“If you have repeated instances in which the perception is at least that this might not have been handled the same way were it not for the element of race, even if it’s unconscious,” he said. “Then I think it’s important for all of us to say, ‘We want to get this right. We want to do something about it.'”