Speaking at the Royal Horticultural Halls in central London, Obama said the movement in the United States to advocate against racially-motivated police violence has been effective, but risks alienating people if the message is delivered in an overly harsh manner.
“You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” Obama said, referencing the American Black Lives Matter movement that sprang from incidents of police violence. “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved.”
He said complacency must be avoided on addressing racial issues, even as progress is evident.
“One of the dangers is that by electing a black president people say there must be no problem at all,” he said.
Later in the session, a questioner came out to Obama as “non-binary,” identifying neither as male nor female, and asked Obama to take a firmer stance on gender identity issues.
Obama defended his record, but said he could do little to alter recently passed laws in states like North Carolina and Mississippi that restrict the use of public bathrooms.
Obama was speaking to young people as part of an effort to reach everyday Brits in between high-level talks with Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Earlier Saturday Obama toured the Globe Theatre on London’s Bankside to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. He took in a brief performance from “Hamlet” and toured the reproduction 17th century stage.
On Friday Obama spent much his time in Britain meeting members of the royal family, including the young third-in-line to the throne Prince George. Obama termed the young heir “adorable” in his remarks Saturday.
But he also sounded a warning against isolationist impulses in Britain, where voters are currently weighing a referendum on exiting the European Union. He said the crowd should dismiss cynicism in favor of an optimistic worldview.
“Take a longer, more optimistic view of history,” he said.