Former President Barack Obama has partnered with musical icon Bruce Springsteen in a new podcast called Renegades: Born in the USA. The unlikely duo describes their new eight-part project on Spotify as an ongoing conversation about “their lives, music, and enduring love of America — despite all its challenges.” During the second episode, which launched this week along with the first, Obama recalled an incident he had in the seventh grade with a friend who called him a racial slur; in response, Obama proceeded to break his nose.
After Springsteen recalled a situation when his late E Street Band bandmate Clarence Clemons was called the N-word to his face, the former president reflected on his own grade school experience with racist slurs. He began, “When I was in school I had a friend, we played basketball together, and one time we got into a fight and he called me a c**n.” Obama added, “Now first of all, ain’t no c**ns in Hawaii, right?” before he explained the root of the problem: “You know… it’s one of those things that where he might not even known what a c**n was. What he knew was, ‘I can hurt you by saying this.’ And I remember I popped him in the face and broke his nose and we were in the locker room. And suddenly blood is pouring down. And it was just reactive; I said, ‘What?’ and I popped him.”
The friend asked Obama why he punched him; Obama remembers simply responding, “Don’t you ever call me something like that.” Later on in the episode, the former president shared why that instance reflected an even larger institutionalized problem: “But the point is that what it comes down to is, an assertion of status over the other, right?”
He continued, “The claim is made that, ‘No matter what I am… I may be poor. I may be ignorant. I may be mean. I may be ugly. I may not like myself. I may be unhappy. But you know what I’m not? I’m not you.‘ And that basic psychology that then gets institutionalized is used to justify dehumanizing somebody, taking advantage of ‘em, cheating ‘em, stealing from ‘em, killing ‘em, raping ‘em.
“And in some cases, it’s as simple as, you know, ‘I’m scared I’m insignificant and not important. And this thing is the thing that’s going to give me some importance,” Obama concluded.
Before you go, click here to see presidential families over the years.