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Yesterday, President Barack Obama visited daytime talk show “The View” and touched on a wide range of topics, including Lindsay Lohan’s prison term. But during a more serious exchange, Obama used a word to describe African-Americans that has its own complex and emotional history: “mongrel.”

The president and the five “View” co-hosts were discussing the recent controversy around Shirley Sherrod and the dilemmas of race in America. Barbara Walters offered this comment and question to President Obama: “You do not describe yourself as a black president. Your mother was white. Would it be helpful or why don’t you say ’I'm not a black president, I’m bi-racial?”

Obama responded, in part: “The interesting thing about the African-American experience in this country is that we are sort of a mongrel people, I mean we’re all kinds of mixed-up. Now that”s actually true for white America as well, but we just know more about it.”

Mongrel has several meanings. In botany, it refers to “any plant resulting from the crossing of different breeds or varieties.” Used generally, it can describe “of mixed breed, nature, or origin.” If you are talking about breeding animals, especially dogs, a mongrel is “a dog of mixed or indeterminate breed.” And in the ugly history of racism, “mongrel” has been used to demean couples of different ethnicities and children of mixed race.

This last sense of mongrel invokes another nasty word, miscegenation, which is a derogatory term for couples of mixed race who marry and have kids. In many states anti-miscegenation laws made it a crime for two people of different races to have a relationship or engage in intimate activities. The Supreme Court found these laws to be unconstitutional in 1967.

This explanation barely scratches the surface of the context behind “mongrel,”  and doesn’t begin to touch upon Obama’s use of the word or his intentions. That’s where you come in. The president is known for his precise and astute use of language. Do you think he meant to rehabilitate the word, by emphasizing the positive or neutral aspects of its history? Did he use “mongre,l” knowing full well that it has some an offensive tinge, as a reminder of the hardships that mixed-race families have faced for centuries? Or do you think he was simply not thinking about every word that came out of his mouth? Tell us what you think.

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100 Comments

  1. Shadaan -  November 22, 2013 - 9:46 am

    To my opinion the word mongrel has been brought down from racist societies from the past. We use this word to derogate other people sometimes and in Australia the racist people use this word often as name calling and insulting. Why should the president use this word leave it to the bigoted and the racist.

    Reply
  2. www.Imdb.com -  November 19, 2013 - 4:55 am

    I almost nevewr lesve a response, but I browsed a few
    of the coimments onn thhis page Obama’s “mongrel people” remark raises a touchy topic.

    Whaat did he say, and what doe “mongrel” mean? | Dictionary.com Blog.
    I do have a couple of questionss for yoou iff it’s okay.
    Is it simply me or does it look as if like
    a few of these remarks appear like they are coming from brain dead individuals?
    :-P And, if you are writing on additional social sites, I’d like to follow anything fresh you have too post.
    Could you make a list off the complete urls off all yoiur social community
    pages like your linkedxin profile, Facebook pae or twittedr
    feed?

    Reply
  3. STHI BASH -  April 18, 2012 - 2:50 am

    Whatever he said, I’m sure he did’nt mean bad. I mean he is a mixed-breed after all and in regards to what Barbara Walters’ comment that Obbama is not really black, I think he actually is because his father is black.

    Reply
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    Reply
  6. Mongrel Race? Mongrel People? -  February 15, 2011 - 4:00 am

    [...] Americans as "mongrel", so there you go – Obama agrees with you on that part at least! Obama Reply With Quote + Reply to Thread « Previous Thread | Next [...]

    Reply
  7. Parch -  August 6, 2010 - 6:13 am

    i think that blacks are a mongrel people, too.

    if my statement is racist and his is not, then you are intellectually dishonest, and probably a racist yourself.

    Reply
  8. Click & Earn -  August 3, 2010 - 10:15 pm

    He identifies himself with a group (a.k.a. “we”); I’m wondering which group he’s associated himself with: the son of a Caucasian mother, the son of an African-American father, or an American. This sounds like political double-speak to me. Hopefully there was more content to his response than the quote above.

    Reply
  9. Click & Earn -  August 3, 2010 - 10:07 pm

    However, his lineage does afford him a certain level of authority on the subject. I personally would not have chosen the turn “mongrel”, but then again I personally don’t see anything wrong with the term “miscegengated”.

    Reply
  10. Click & Earn -  August 3, 2010 - 10:06 pm

    Americans come from a diverse background, just like all Americans (and indeed, that’s what he said). African-Americans do not have a purely African heritage, and that diversity one of the things that makes them, and all Americans so wonderful.

    Reply
  11. Click & Earn -  August 3, 2010 - 10:00 pm

    We may have a predominant race within our immediate ancestry but where did that race come from and why is this so important? I think any language that seperates one person from another because of immediate ethnicity is truly one example of pure ignorance and racism.

    Reply
  12. what??? -  August 3, 2010 - 10:36 am

    “Obama responded, in part: ‘The interesting thing about the African-American experience in this country is that we are sort of a mongrel people, I mean we’re all kinds of mixed-up. Now that’s actually true for white America as well, but we just know more about it.’”

    He identifies himself with a group (a.k.a. “we”); I’m wondering which group he’s associated himself with: the son of a Caucasian mother, the son of an African-American father, or an American. This sounds like political double-speak to me. Hopefully there was more content to his response than the quote above.

    I was taught btw, that there is only one race, i.e., the human race, and skin pigment, or other physical characteristics is a matter of DNA coding…

    Reply
  13. Carrie -  August 3, 2010 - 10:24 am

    The thing about his comment that offended me was that “…but we just know more about it.” As if those of us that are of mixed breed but have no “black” in us are less in tune with the discrimination Mutts experience. That right there is a divisive comment. Why is his mixed breed different than mine? Why can’t he ever just equate all people as equal? Why does one group always have to be more deserving then another? I really hate this attitude. It is a chauvinist and racist attitude. if you can’t look beyond skin color, gender, religion, hair color, height, or some other “difference”, then you are just promulgating discrimination.

    Reply
  14. Harold Elledge -  August 2, 2010 - 9:49 am

    I think you guys think to hard sometimes, since the way obama used the term mongrel seems to be for a mix of races, leading to the reason of why he cannot be called a Black president since he’s an oreo(half black and white…I hope you get this…), just like myself.

    Reply
  15. ANONYMOUS -  August 1, 2010 - 6:09 pm

    TO USE THE TERM ‘MONGREL’ SHOULD BE OFFENSIVE TO ALL! PRESIDENT OBAMA OPENED HIS MOUTH AND PUT HIS FOOT IN IT, AS USUAL.

    Reply
  16. Joha -  July 31, 2010 - 9:24 pm

    I don’t know why people are so proud of their skin colour or heritage to the point that they become racist or feel they are superior to another human being. So what if, for example, “white man” invented planes and medicine first or have more money than other races. It’s such a shallow and stupid ideology. People need to get OVER themselves and give other people other than “their own kind” some well deserved crdit.

    Reply
  17. Pablo -  July 31, 2010 - 9:33 am

    President Obama understands extremely well that the word MONGREL is an Old English word. He knows as a BI-RACIAL child that people refered to him as a mixed child,Afro-American, sometimes,a “Nigra.” Obama also knows that even his mother’s mother,(The grandmother), would make racial slurs that made him understand. Be as it may, they loved each other. I am sure that he is well educated. He surely comprehends HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS which helps one to understand the history of our language. Obama not only calls himself a MONGREL, but all people. Historical linguistics tells us how mixed we humans are when we study surnames like MOORE, MORROW,McDONALD (descendant of Blacks),of our connections. Even though I may have BLUE EYES and BLOND HAIR, my DNA IS related to the KHOISAN. Obama is well educated;he loves people & wants people to learn. Beethoven was also a MONGREL. Beethoven says that his friends called him “Der Mohr”(The Dark One). Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, related to King Ferdinand of Spain was AFRICOID. Yes, we are all MONGRELS. lET’S ALL REJOICE IN BEING HUMANS.

    Reply
  18. Virginia -  July 31, 2010 - 8:30 am

    When I watched The View I had a inner chuckle to myself because Obama was spot on in reference to ‘mongrel people’, you can describe a large number of black/brown races as ‘mongrel people’ – I too am from a mongrel race (Sri Lankan)! I too was surprised that he chose those particular words, when in fact Obama probably could have used a better term. I guess the baby-boomers and Gen-X struggle more with the word ‘mongrel’ than Gen-Y, due to negative stigmas in reference to mix/cross-cultural breeding! I don’t consider Obama as African American, to me he’s half White and half African And a man who is a citizen of America first and foremost! I am not a citizen of America but from an outsiders point of view Americans tend to dwell to much on the race issue, is it so difficult to move past colour?

    Reply
  19. Bomza -  July 30, 2010 - 10:53 pm

    *enhanced* it is our intepretation of how and why american population got to be mixed, that makes use of the word unbearable.

    Reply
  20. Poet -  July 30, 2010 - 10:44 pm

    I like being Black and African American. Why do you really want to be called Mongrels … I am sure there is a better word. I am just not a fan of him anymore. I like being different I dont want to be a one race. All this oneness … creation of a new world order …

    Reply
  21. Bomza -  July 30, 2010 - 10:42 pm

    The use of the word is scientificly spot on. It is our intepretation of why and how the american population got to be mixed. Yes to an extent it is as a result of slavery and it pains to think about it. But to a large extent it was by choice. Either way you are still mix and that is what the president was referring to at that point. The how america got to have people of mixed race is a differrent topic altogether, then we can bring in the factors like slavery and choice. Could he have used another word, yes but he is an intellect, he used a word with a broader meaning like mongrel, with a clear scientific meaning but implied differently by society.

    Reply
  22. Fedupwithyall -  July 30, 2010 - 10:39 pm

    The question was about the use of the word. Not the user of the word. Words have meaning. They exist for clarity. All this talk indicating otherwise is a waste of time. You may call yourself a mutt, or a mongrel, or whatever you wish. You can disrespect yourself all you want. I am not a mutt or a mongrel I am a person. Now if you want to call yourself a mutt or mongrel , then you are no longer allowed to get upset if someone calls you the “B-word”. Because after all, that word has multiple meanings too ranging from female mutt to difficult experience. So you should be diverse enough not to take offense. See how your logic does not work out? It is time to stop being lazy and learn what words mean and use them like we should. Words have meaning. And this is a Dictionary site. It’s about the meaning of words, not the worn out boring race arguments that are only used to divide people.
    And folks ..please.. you are so much more than mutts or mongrels.

    Reply
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