President Obama's Delicate Dance on Race

ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports on how President Obama has handled racial firestorms.
2:58 | 08/24/14

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Transcript for President Obama's Delicate Dance on Race
When he first burst on the national scene at the Democratic Convention a decade ago Barack Obama did so with powerful words on the subject of race. The Black America. They want America and -- you know America. Eight years later when he -- -- President Obama took the convention stage not a single word on the issue of race. The history books will forever call Barack Obama America's first African American president. But those closest to the presidency that has never been central to how he defines himself. As president his words on race have been few and far between often a reaction to outside events. Why when fiery and offensive videos of president Obama's friend and pastor Jeremiah Wright emerged during the 2008 campaign. -- -- -- -- god. Damn America. Candidate Obama responded with deeply personal words in what became known as the race speech I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother. A woman who helped raise me and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes. That made me cringe. His first foray -- -- racially tinged controversy as president was a bit of a stumble when in 2009 he was asked about the arrest. Of his friend Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates the Cambridge police. Acted. Stupidly after those comments set off a bit of a firestorm the president invited professor gates and the arresting officer to the White House for a beer fodder for late night comedians. Finally putting out this racial firestorm the same way I put out kitchen fires. With alcohol. Over the next three years President Obama took harsh criticism from some African American leaders for saying so little about race this president runs from race like a black man rounds from a cap. What we have to do -- to ask mr. Obama to stand up and -- bully pulpit to help us. He -- -- to speak about race when he killed the unarmed black teenager neem tree on Martin was shot. But the president it was personal. For -- on -- could have been me. 35 years ago. His second term -- brought a new focus on young men of color. Personal involvement in the my brother's keeper initiative seeking to provide support and mentors to young black man from the inner city chased. Us. Yeah. -- -- It's an effort the president aides say he will continue long after he leaves the White House. The president responded to the shooting of Michael Brown in the looting and violence securities and misery that followed. With an appeal for calm as -- time for healing. Speaking not first and foremost as the African American president but as the president of all Americans. For this week Jonathan Karl with the president Martha's Vineyard.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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