In a new episode of his “Renegades” podcast with Bruce Springsteen, Barack Obama revealed that the “politics of white resistance” prevented him from pursuing a national plan for reparations during his presidency. The former president made the comments to Springsteen after the E Street Band leader asked if he thought reparations are justified.
“Here we sit today, where it feels like a reckoning is being called for,” Springsteen said in the episode. “Is the country ready to deconstruct its founding myths?… Is it prepared to consider reparations, do you think?”
“So, if you ask me theoretically are reparations justified, the answer is yes,” Obama responded. “There’s not much question.”
“The wealth of this country, the power of this country, was built in significant part on the backs of slaves,” he added. “They built the house I stayed in for a while.”
“If you’re thinking of what’s just, you would look back and you would say descendants of those who suffered those kinds of terrible, cruel [and] often arbitrary injustices deserve some sort of redress; some support of compensation, [of] recognition,” he continued.
However, Obama said he thought pursuing reparations during his presidency might have been “counterproductive” due to the “politics of white resistance and resentment” at the time.
“Could you actually get that kind of justice?” he questioned. “Could you get a country to agree and own that history? And my judgment was that as a practical matter that was unattainable.”
“What I saw during my presidency was the politics of white resistance and resentment,” he continued. “The talk of welfare queens and the talk of the undeserving poor and the backlash against affirmative action. All that made the prospect of actually proposing any kind of coherent, meaningful reparation program struck me as, politically, not only a nonstarter but potentially counterproductive.”
Obama added that “working-class white folks” and those struggling with poverty “wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of a massive program that is designed to deal with the past but isn’t speaking to their future.”
The conversation was included in Obama and Springsteen’s “American Skin: Race in the United States” episode — the third episode to arrive from their “Renegades” podcast. Listen to the full episode below.