Obama Says He Broke His Schoolmate's Nose for Calling Him a Racial Slur

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Tara C. Mahadevan
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Image via Getty/Patrick Semansky

Barack Obama said that he broke a classmate’s nose in a locker room fight after the then-friend called him by a racial slur. The former president recounted the story on episode two of his new Renegades podcast with Bruce Springsteen.

“Listen, 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. Now, first of all, ain’t no c**ns in Hawaii, right? It’s one of those things that where he might not even have known what a c**n was. What he knew was, ‘I can hurt you by saying this,’” Obama said, adding “and I remember I popped him in the face and broke his nose and we were in the locker room.”

“Well done,” Springsteen responded.

“I explained to him—I said, ‘Don’t you ever call me something like that,’” Obama recalled. He said that using racial slurs is an “assertion of status over the other” person. “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?” Obama said to Springsteen. “I’m not you.”

“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,” said Obama. “Whatever it is, at the end of the day it really comes down to that. 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.’”

Listen to the rest of the episode below.

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