on Saturday condemned the “incredibly offensive racist statements” attributed to
, calling them a sign of how the U.S. continues to wrestle with its legacy of "slavery and segregation."
But Obama also said he thinks such remarks from "ignorant folks" draw outrage because they're so out of sync with the American self-concept.
"We've made enormous strides, but you're going to continue to see this percolate up every so often," Obama said. Americans have to be "clear and steady in denouncing" such comments, he said, but should also "remain hopeful that part of why some statements like this stand out so much is because there has been this shift in how we view ourselves."
Sterling has stirred anger after allegedly making derogatory remarks about black people in an audio recording released by celebrity gossip site TMZ. In it, a man identified as Sterling criticizes his girlfriend for posting on Instagram a picture of herself with
"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people," the man says in the recording. He later adds, "I'm just saying, in your … Instagrams, you don't have to have yourself … walking with black people.
Obama commented on the statements when asked about them during a press conference in Malaysia, a country of multiple ethnic groups that wrestles with its own issues of diversity.
"Like Malaysia, we constantly have to be on guard against racial attitudes that divide us rather than embracing our diversity as a strength," Obama said. "We have to make sure that we stay on top of it."
Obama said he is confident that the National Basketball Assn. commissioner will address the situation on behalf of a league that he said is "beloved by fans all across the country."