US President Barack Obama poked fun at claims that racism was behind fierce opposition to his ambitious political agenda, joking that "I was actually black before the election."
It was the latest attempt by Obama to tone down the debate, after former US president Jimmy Carter commented that much of the conservative fury directed at Obama's health care plans was motivated by racism.
Obama on Monday said on the The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS that the fact he was elected as America's first African-American president at all was a more accurate indicator of wider race relations in the country.
"I think it's important to realise that I was actually black before the election."
"One of the things that you sign up for in politics is that folks yell at you," the president said, in a taping for the show due to air later yesterday.
"Whenever a president tries to bring about significant changes, particularly during times of economic unease, there is a certain segment of the population that gets very riled up."
Obama also said in a more serious vein that Americans were weary of the war in Afghanistan, and said US troops were performing heroically there and in Iraq.