NEW YORK — President Obama waded into the national race debate in an unlikely setting and with an unusual choice of words: telling daytime talk show hosts that African-Americans are “sort of a mongrel people.”
The president appeared on ABC’s morning talk show “The View” Thursday, where he talked about the forced resignation of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod, his experience with race and his roots.
When asked about his background, which includes a black father and white mother, Obama said of African-Americans: "We are sort of a mongrel people."
"I mean we're all kinds of mixed up," Obama said. "That's actually true of white people as well, but we just know more about it."
The president's remarks were directed at the roots of all Americans. The definition of mongrel as an adjective is defined as "of mixed breed, nature, or origin," according to dictionary.com.
Obama did not appear to be making an inflammatory remark with his statement and the audience appeared to receive it in the light-hearted manner that often accompanies interviews on morning talk shows.
The race debate was reignited after Sherrod’s firing. Obama also addressed the issue in his speech to the National Urban League 100th Anniversary Convention in Washington on Thursday morning.
But in his interview on “The View,” which was taped Wednesday but aired Thursday, the president said the Sherrod story was prompted when the media "generated a phony controversy."
"A lot of people overreacted, including people in my administration," he said.
Obama called Sherrod last week after Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackTom VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE apologized for her firing.
Obama noted "there's still a reptilian side of our brain" that leads people to not trust others "if somebody sounds different or looks different."
The president stressed that what's "important is how you treat people."
Obama discussed a wide range of issues as the first sitting president to appear on a daytime talk show.
He was challenged by Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the conservative voice on the all-women panel, about his claim to have saved 2.5 million jobs with his recovery act and his inability to unite the country.
On the latter, Obama said that "right after the election there was a sense of hopefulness and unity," but "the politics of the economic recovery" and steps he took to save the auto companies created a partisan divide.
"My hope is that I've tried to set a tone in the debate that says, 'Look, we can disagree without being disagreeable,'" Obama said.
On the economy, Obama told Hasselbeck that she was "absolutely right" that enough jobs have not returned, but he brushed her back on her assertion that saving jobs is not as important as adding jobs.
"Well, it makes a difference, though, if your job was one that was saved," Obama said.
While the president conceded that "we are not bouncing back as quick as we need to," he said he does think the American economy will get its "mojo back over the next several months."
"Don't bet against American workers," Obama said. "Don't bet against American ingenuity."
Obama responded to questions from Barbara Walters and Joy Behar about his tough critics in the conservative media by saying he is more worried about the American people than himself.
"You said it's been tough for me, but the truth is it's not tough for me," Obama said. "I don't spend a lot of time worrying about me. I spend a lot of time worrying about them."
Behar, a vocal liberal, teed up the president to talk about his critics on the right, asking Obama "where's your attack dog?"
But Obama didn’t take the bait, responding "we shouldn't be campaigning all the time. There's a time to campaign, and there's a time to govern."
"I'm not perfect. My administration's not perfect," Obama said. "A lot of this criticism I listen to, and it's fair, I try to correct it."
Obama taped the interview Wednesday when he was in New York City for two Democratic National Committee fundraisers. He also spent Wednesday in New Jersey talking about the economy.
-- This story was updated at 11:05 a.m. and 2:02 p.m.