President Obama said in an interview airing Sunday on CNN there was “no doubt” that he moved “back and forth between the racial divides” because of his unique, multiracial background.
“Not just black-white, but Asian and Latino and, you know, I've got a lot of cultural influences,” Obama said on “State of the Union.” “I think what it does do for me is to recognize that most Americans have good intentions.”
In the interview, taped before Saturday’s killing of two New York City police officers, Obama said his upbringing made him “mindful of the fact that there's misunderstanding, there's mistrust and there are biases both overt and sometimes hidden that operate in ways that disadvantage minority communities.”
“There's a long legacy in this country that has gotten enormously better, but is still there. And when you look at what's happened in law enforcement across the country over the last several years —that's not news to African-Americans,” he continued. “What's different is simply that some of it's now videotaped and people see it.”
Obama said he was “impatient” that more progress had not been made on issues of race, but that he rejected the notion “America is inherently and irreducibly racist.”
“I think an unwillingness to acknowledge that progress has been made cuts off the possibility of further progress,” he said.
The issues of police tactics and race relations have erupted into the forefront in recent months following the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men who were killed in confrontations with white police officers. In both cases, grand juries declined to bring charges.
Those decisions sparked a series of nationwide protests, and calls from Obama to improve relations between police and the communities they serve. Last week, Obama signed an executive order creating a task force designed to consider that issue.
The assassination-style deaths Saturday of the two New York City police officers — Wenjin Liu and Raphael Ramos — has already contributed to that debate, with critics of the Obama administration charging that the shooting was the result of politicians and protestors criticizing police tactics. The suspect in the shooting, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, posted messages to an Instagram account described by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton as “very anti-police.”
In a statement issued Saturday night, Obama “unconditionally” condemned the shooting and asked for a rejection of “violence and words that harm.”
But in his interview with CNN, Obama said there was value in having a debate about equality and policing.
“I believe that the overwhelming majority of white Americans, as well as African-Americans, want to see this problem solved,” Obama said. “So I have confidence that by surfacing these issues, we're going to be able to make progress on them.”