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Barack Obama has backed reparations for slavery and said he could not get it done due to the "politics of white resistance and resentment".
The former president said he didn't pursue the issue in office because it had been politically a "nonstarter".
Mr Obama said: “If you ask me theoretically ‘are reparations justified?’ the answer is yes.
"There’s not much question that the wealth of this country, 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."
The former president was speaking on his podcast “Renegades: Born in the USA” in conversation with Bruce Springsteen about race relations.
Mr Obama said: "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.
"All that made the prospect of actually proposing any kind of coherent, meaningful reparations programme struck me as, politically, not only a nonstarter but potentially counterproductive."
The former president 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 a massive reparations programme.
During his original campaign in 2008, Mr Obama's position was that the "best reparations" would be "good schools in the inner city" and jobs.
Joe Biden’s White House has given its support to studying reparations amid renewed Democrat efforts to push through a law creating a commission on the issue.
The commission would suggest appropriate remedies including financial payments from the government to compensate descendants of slaves for years of unpaid labour by their ancestors.
Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, said last week: "The president certainly would support a study of reparations. He understands we don’t need a study to take action right now on systemic racism, so he wants to take actions within his own government in the meantime."