Former President Barack Obama told his podcast co-host, Bruce Springsteen, that he would have liked to pursue reparations for slavery as part of his presidential agenda, but that the “politics of white resistance” made the issue a “non-starter.”
Obama and Springsteen recently launched a podcast together where the pair discuss how to pursue “unity” among Americans and forge friendships across party, class, and racial lines. The podcast is billed as two friends from polar opposite backgrounds coming together — Springsteen from a working-class New Jersey upbringing and Obama from a childhood spent in Hawaii and later, in Chicago — but both Springsteen and Obama are now wealthy Democrats.
In the podcast’s second episode, which dropped Monday, the pair chatted about improving race relations, and Springsteen ended the discussion by asking Obama whether he considered pursuing reparations for slavery during his time in the White House.
Obama told Springsteen that he considered the idea but ultimately felt it was a losing battle.
“Obama said he believes reparations are ‘justified’ and that ‘there’s not much question that the wealth… the power of this country was built in significant part — not exclusively, maybe not even the majority of it, but a large portion of it — was built on the backs of slaves,'” Fox News reports.
“The former president claimed that a reparations proposal didn’t make its way through the lawmaking process during his presidency due to ‘the politics of White resistance and resentment,'” the outlet continues.
“And what I saw during my presidency was the politics of White resistance and resentment. The talk of ‘welfare queens’ and the talk of the ‘undeserving’ poor. And the backlash against affirmative action,” Obama said. “All that made the prospect of actually proposing any kind of coherent, meaningful reparations program struck me as, politically, not only a nonstarter but potentially counterproductive.”
Obama seemed, later, to walk back some of his criticism, saying he understood that the working poor would be justly concerned about a proposal that addresses the past rather than the present or future.
It was, he said, “perfectly understandable why working-class White folks, middle-class White folks, folks who are having trouble paying the bills or dealing with student loans, wouldn’t be too thrilled” about “a massive program that is designed to deal with the past but isn’t speaking to their future.”
Congress has considered the issue of reparations repeatedly over the course of the last half-century, but generally, the idea of reparations does not get further than a study committee. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) introduced a bill to commission yet another committee to study the possibility of issuing reparations recently and President Joe Biden reportedly backs the effort, though it’s not clear on whether the president would support actual reparations.
Several black leaders questioned Lee’s proposal in Congressional hearings last week, criticizing reparations as “wealth redistribution” and questioning the practicality and fairness of issuing reparations checks, given that the program would necessarily involve recipients demonstrating some genetic proof of a connection to slavery in the United States.