On Monday, Obama, the first African American U.S. president, astute politician and speaker, used the N word in a very public manner. In using such a painful and demeaning term, right after the massacre in South Carolina, Obama may well be trying to intentionally spotlight attention on racism now in America. On Friday, Obama will deliver a eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the state senator who was one of nine people killed in the racially motivated shooting last week in Charleston. While it is unlikely the bookending of these two disparate public speeches is intentional, it is certainly striking.
If you're curious about the origin, history and some context around use of the N word then the following two books and DVD may interest you:
Jabari Asim was a Washington Post columnist when he published this book in 2007. To quote the Booklist review (and presaging Obama's podcast) "he argues that the word has had a long history of powerful impact in more responsible hands as a reminder of the troubled legacy of race relations in the U.S."
This DVD uses well known actors, directors, musicians and educators in a pro vs con type format where prominent figures debate the impact of the N word.
Distinguished Harvard legal scholar Randall Kennedy, in 2002, traces the origins and connotations of “the nuclear bomb of racial epithets". The New York Times Sunday Book Review gave it a lengthy review.