Former President Obama says he once broke a schoolmate’s nose after the then-friend called him a racial slur during a locker room fight.
The 44th president shared the revelation in an episode of his Spotify podcast with Bruce Springsteen, “Renegades,” released Monday.
“Listen, when I was in school, I had a friend. We played basketball together,” Obama told the “Born in the U.S.A.” singer during a wide-ranging conversation on race.
“And one time we got into a fight and he called me a c–n,” Obama said about 13 minutes into the episode before quipping of his Aloha State upbringing to chuckles from Springsteen, “Now first of all, ain’t no c–ns in Hawaii, right?”
“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,'” Obama, 59, continued.
The country’s first Black president added with a laugh, “And I remember I popped him in the face and broke his nose and we were in the locker room.”
“Well done,” Springsteen remarked.
“I explained to him — I said, ‘Don’t you ever call me something like that,'” Obama recalled.
It is believed to the first time the former president has discussed the incident publicly.
Hurling racial slurs, he said, comes down to “an assertion of status over the other.”
“‘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, cheatin’ ’em, stealin’ from ’em, killin’ ’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.'”
Obama has repeatedly discussed the linger impacts of racism on American society, both in office and since leaving it.
He evoked a racial slur in a 2015 interview to warn that America is not “cured” of racism. In his comments, made following a deadly shooting at a historically black church in South Carolina, Obama said, “It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n—– in public.
That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”