On Podcast, Obama Revisits Reparations For Black America


Written by Ann Brown

New: On Podcast, Obama Ducks From Expressing Any Conviction On Reparations For Black America Photo: Former President Barack Obama, Nov. 2, 2020, at Turner Field in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

For years, former President Barack Obama has knocked down the idea of reparations for Black America but new statements seem to suggest that the country’s first Black president agrees they are justified. However, he’s still not totally committed to the concept.

During an episode of Obama’s new podcast, “Renegades: Born in the USA,” which he co-hosts with rock ‘n’ roll legend Bruce Springsteen, the discussion turned to reparations. The second episode of the podcast is entitled “American Skin: Race in the United States.”

Springsteen asked Obama about reparations for Black America during the discussion.

“Now you mentioned a reckoning hadn’t taken place, so here we sit today, where it feels like a reckoning is being called for, you know?” Springsteen said.

Obama replied, “Is the country ready to deconstruct its founding myths, its mythic stories, its mythic history? Or is it prepared to consider reparations?…So if you ask theoretically, ‘Are reparations justified?’ The answer is ‘yes.’”

Obama went on to explain why he thought reparations were justified: “The wealth of this country, the power of this country, was built…on the backs of slaves.”

Obama continued, “What is also true is that even after the end of formal slavery, and the continuation of Jim Crow, the systematic oppression and discrimination of Black Americans resulted in Black families not being able to build up wealth, not being able to compete, and that has generational effects.”

Despite this acknowledgment, Obama failed to push for reparations while he was president.

“I was convinced that reparations was a non-starter for Black America during my presidency,” he told Springsteen. A non-starter, he said, because it would have been blocked.

A reparations proposal during his presidency would have met with “the politics of white resistance” and “white resentment,” Obama said. “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.”

The prospect of actually proposing any kind of coherent,
meaningful reparations program, Obama said, “struck me as politically, not only a non-starter, but potentially counterproductive.”

In his judgment, Obama said during the podcast that reparations, “as a practical matter,” was unattainable during his presidency. “We can’t even get this country to provide decent schooling for inner-city kids,” he added.

Twitter wasn’t buying it.

“All I know is that he said reparations would be impractical for #ADOS and then in an interview he was asked to do specifics for ADOS and he said, ‘that’s not how America works,’” tweeted former political consultant Maxwell Little.

Another Twitter user posted, “I hear you loud and clear. It’s illegal to be Black here.”

“The reality is, Obama was never for us. He crushed centuries of civil rights work in 8 years,” Little posted in a separate tweet.

“Years and years of work and it seems that so little changes,” another Twitter user wrote.

During his presidential campaign in 2008, Obama steered talk of reparations to other issues. He said, “the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed,” The Independent reported.

A push for reparations has been presented to Congress for more than three decades. The latest debate was prompted after congressional Democrats reintroduced the H.R. 40 bill in the House of Representatives.

During the second federal HR 40 hearing held earlier this month on the reparations bill, witnesses presented the pros and cons of reparations. Among them was conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who said in a Twitter post that he agreed with Obama’s initial pushback against reparations.

“Reparations are the extraction of money from people who were never slave owners to be given to people who were never slaves. Only about 5 percent of white Americans have any sort of generational connection to slavery, which ended 156 years ago. When we paid reparations to people in the past as when the Japanese received reparations for being put into relocation camps, the money was paid to them, victims themselves, or to their legal heirs. Slavery ended 156 years ago. It was just too long ago,” Elder tweeted.

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Elder added, “By the way, someone like Obama, whose mother, her family-owned slaves, and his father lived in Kenya, an area of active slave trading — does Obama get a check, or does he cut a check? And some years ago, Obama was asked about reparations and he said it would be too divisive and politically impossible in our country. Guess what, Obama was right.”

During the podcast, Obama said he understood the resistance to reparations. He said it was “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 the concept of “a massive program that is designed to deal with the past but isn’t speaking to their future.”

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