Obama discusses path forward from racial injustice: Part 1

The former president sat down with “GMA” host Michael Strahan to discuss the Capitol insurrection, misinformation, the presidential glass ceiling and the importance of unity to get things done.
8:13 | 06/19/21

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Transcript for Obama discusses path forward from racial injustice: Part 1
landmark el capitan theatre in Los Angeles. Happy juneteenth, everybody, and thank you for joining us on this special edition of "Soul of a nation," as we commemorate a day that marks the end of slavery here in the united States. We can trace the origins of juneteenth back 156 years ago to galveston, Texas, where the last remaining enslaved people learned they were free. Today it remains a day of joy, celebration, and yeah, some good food and music, too. And now there's even more to celebrate with both chambers of congress passing legislation making juneteenth a federal holiday. Tonight, we'll explore the try um triumphs of black life and culture and reflect on those whose shoulders we stand on. For a lot of us, president Barack Obama is one of those giants. America's first black president sits down with "Good morning America's" co-anchor Michael Strahan to unpack the racial reckoning we've seen in the last year and talk about his recent memoir, "A promised land." President Obama, happy juneteenth. It is good to see you. Happy juneteenth to you. Thank you. I remember being in school, and they had all the presidents, and they had every president up there. You would look at that list and you would say, I want to be president. But I don't think you could believe it. Now when they look at that, your face is up there. Right. And a lot of people will look and say it signiies since you have been elected president that we've moved on from the issue of race. What do you say to that? Oh, I think that's never been the case that, by virtue of my election, somehow we entered into a post racial world. It wasn't something I believed at the time and certainly don't believe it now. The fact is that a lot of barriers still exist for a whole lot of folks. When you look at that list of presidents, we still haven't seen a woman. And the notion that women somehow are not qualified to you know, the fact is, at least in my household, the women are smarter, more insightful, more caring, better looking, more talented, funnier. We live in the same household? So something's happening in our society that prevents them from ascending to the highest office in the land. The same is true for African-Americans. The same is true for Latinos. And the first Americans, native Americans. The odds are stacked in ways that prevent a lot of young people from realizing their potential, and we can do something about it. In "The promised land," you talk about hope. The country's built on hope. Pioneers, abolitionists, civil rights workers. You ran on hope. Yeah. We are choosing hope over fear. And sending a powerful message that change is coming to America. We're now in 2021 and we have the pandemic, the insurrection, racial reckoning. A lot of people feel like they've lost hope. Mm-hmm. How can people get that hope back? You get hope back from, for me at least, taking the long view and recognizing that resilience, determination, the ability to deal with setbacks and disappointments, and keep going, yeah, that those are qualities that can carry us forward. And no one has exhibited that more historically in this country than African-Americans. The March on Washington happened during my lifetime. That's not ancient history. In big parts of the country, segregation was still operative when I was alive. Take for granted, that's just what seems like stuff we now take for granted, that's just a generation old. In your book, you spoke about deep divisions in this country. One of the deepest divisions is the police. And the use of force. What do you see as our next steps on the path forward with that? Well, first of all, I could not be prouder of the young activists who responded to the George Floyd murder and so many of the other incidents that we've seen over the last several years. No justice! No peace! You had a level of white participation in those protests that you never saw, even at the height of the civil rights movement back in the '60s. The key now is to translate that righteous, you know, anger and frustration and sadness into concrete policies. A young Barack Obama, what would you be doing? Would you be marching? Would you be organizing protests? I'd like to think that I'd be out there with those young people, trying to steer that energy into constructive, practical change. And we're not all going to live in a perfect kumbaya society. But we can make it better by working and by reaching out and by assuming the best in each other. And if enough of us do that, we move that Boulder up the hill. Would the young Barack Obama think that our leaders on both sides are doing enough to change the things that people are fighting for right now? You know, I think there's a lot of good leadership out there. One thing that I write about in "A promised land," so often we think of social change coming about because of one charismatic leader. But when we have a bunch of people working together, that's when change happens and that's one of the things that I really admired about so many of the protests that happened this summer. The capitol and the mob, which we both saw storm the capitol -- it just showed a level of distrust between people and the government. Is there a way back from that? I think there's a way back from it. We've got to do a better job of reducing the influence of those who try to enflame division and traffic in conspiracy theories for their own benefit. Is it a threat to democracy? Absolutely it is. If we can't agree on basic facts, then it's very hard for us to negotiate and compromise in a way that is constructive. There are so many people out there who, idea of the American dream, they can't visualize, they can't see it anymore. So, what is it going to take for people to be able to realize and envision the American dream again? Well, look, historically, the American dream has been a reality for some and a myth for others. We're in a community, anacostia in Washington, D.C., that's representative of a lot of communities around the country where the kids who grew up here may formally be free, but structurally, because of poverty, because of schools that aren't working, because of substandard housing, it requires so much more effort for them to live out that American dream. So our job is to make sure that it's not a myth. And right now for too many, it still is.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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