Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns told host John Dickerson he believes America is still a racist nation, and those who have questioned the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate, namely, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, have done so as an alternative to using the N-word.
During a conversation for the 25th anniversary of the five-part Burns documentary The Civil War, Burns said, “All of these tensions have been in place since the very beginning, even before the beginning. But we also notice that race is always there.”
He added: “We pretend with the election of Barack Obama that we’re in some post-racial society. And of course, you know, we’re not.”
Burns also said some of the president’s biggest critics are motivated in their dissent by the color of his skin:
“We pretend with the election of Barack Obama, that we’re in some kind of post-racial society, and of course, you know, we’re not. The Onion magazine got it right when he was inaugurated. It said ‘Black man given worst job in world,’ and what we’ve seen is a kind of reaction to this, the birther movement, to which Donald Trump is one of the authors of, is another politer way of saying the N-word.
It’s just more sophisticated, and a little bit more clever. He’s other. He’s different. What’s actually other and different about him? It turns out it’s same old thing, it’s the color of his skin.”
The documntarian did not mention the origin of the birther movement, which was started by supporters of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. As Clinton’s Democratic primary hopes began slipping away, some of her supporters circulated an anonymous email questioning Obama’s citizenship.
Burns also spoke CBS about the aftermath of June’s Charleston, SC AME Church massacre, in which nine black churchgoers were gunned down by an alleged white supremacist, saying those who refuse to take down their Confederate battle flags do so out of their “resistance” to civil rights:
“Everybody was brought up with the idea that that flag was the flag of the Confederacy. It was not, it was one of many battle flags adopted by the Army of Northern Virginia, it got adopted after 1954, worked into state flags in the old south. And what happened in 1954 was the Brown vs The Board of Education [decision]… And that flag coming into prominence was essentially not heritage, not about civil war heritage, but about resistance to civil rights.”
Burns said while the history surrounding the American Civil War is complicated, it was essentially fought over “the issue of slavery,” and removing symbols of the Confederacy are a step in the right direction of “finally making smart decisions.”
Watch a portion of the interview below: