2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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3/22/08 Phila. Inquirer B03

2008 WLNR 5567639

Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)

Copyright 2008 The (PA)

March 22, 2008

Section: PHILADELPHIA

Peter Mucha

Sen. Barack Obama's description of his grandmother as a "typical white person" in an interview with WIP (610 AM) wound up making waves from the online Huffington Post to YouTube and Larry King Live.

In Thursday's interview with host Angelo Cataldi, the Democrat from Illinois responded to a question about the speech on race he delivered earlier in the week at the National Constitution Center.

In the speech, Obama said his white grandmother "once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street." He also said she "on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

"The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity," Obama said on WIP. "She doesn't. But she is a typical white person who, if she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know, there's a reaction that's been bred into our experiences that don't go away, and that sometimes comes out in the wrong way, and that's just the nature of race in our society."

Cataldi did no follow-up on Obama's choice of words and went on to other topics in the five-minute conversation. The conversation was quickly written about online ( http://go.philly.com/wipobama ) and soon was offered as a podcast at www.610wip.com.

Then the reactions started.

"We doubt this story will have legs, but wonder if Hillary Clinton referred to a 'typical black person,' would we ever hear the end of it?" Dan Gross of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote on his PhillyGossip blog.

"Seriously, Barack Obama basically called all white people racist. ... Is this guy kidding?" wrote Taylor Marsh on the Huffington Post in midafternoon.

WIP host Howard Eskin, known for having strong opinions, said during his 3 p.m. show that he was offended by the remark, at one point repeatedly asking a caller who had identified himself as African American if he was "a typical black person."

"Obama 'Typical White Person' Racist Interview" was a headline on an excerpt posted on YouTube.

On Thursday night, Larry King referred to the comments on WIP during an interview with Obama: "You called her today 'a typical white person,' meaning what, Senator?"

"Well, what I meant really was that some of the fears of street crime and some of the stereotypes that go along with that were responses that I think many people feel," Obama replied. "She's not extraordinary in that regard. She is somebody that I love as much as anybody. I mean, she has literally helped to raise me. But those are fears that are embedded in our culture, and embedded in our society, and even within our own families, even within a family like mine that is diverse."

Asked whether his campaign might suffer some damage because of the remark, the senator did not directly respond but expressed confidence that Americans could talk honestly about complicated issues and that "if we're not trying to demonize each other, that we can solve problems."

Yesterday morning, Cataldi sounded amused by all the controversy. "Only now do I know he was really just calling to give us his NCAA picks. . . . I'm asking him about his white grandmother and he wanted to talk about UCLA, about Duke against Belmont. What a disaster!"

Then he said his own mother called yesterday to rib him about helping Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Cohost Al Morganti said that CNN invited him to comment on the air, but that the cable network changed its mind because he thought the subject was "no big deal."

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

 

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