Washington - President Barack Obama said banishing racism in the United States can only happen incrementally, and urged young people to "be persistent" in fighting bias.
He was speaking as protests continue in cities across the United States, where thousands have gathered over the past two weeks to condemn a spate of killings of black suspects by white police.
"This isn't going to be solved overnight, this is something that is deeply rooted in our society, it's deeply rooted in our history," Obama said in an interview with Black Entertainment Television that aired on Monday.
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He urged young people to press on in their fight against racism, and said patience was crucial.
"We have to be persistent, because typically progress is in steps, it's in increments," he said.
"When you're dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism, or bias, in any society, you've got to have vigilance but you have to recognise that it's going to take some time."
"But we can't just wait for that process to happen on its own," Obama added.
"It also requires policy changes. It requires training. It requires specific steps by police departments, starting from the top, in order to change some of these mindsets."
Obama said race relations had improved over the last 50 years, even though tensions persist.
"If you talk to parents, grandparents, uncles, they'll tell you that things are better, not good in some cases, but better."
"I want my grandsons to be treated like anybody else's grandsons," Obama said.
Series of police killings
A series of police killings of African American suspects in the United States has sparked widespread anger and ignited a national debate about race relations and police tactics.
"Part of what I think is so heartbreaking and frustrating for a lot of folks when they watch this is the recognition that simply by virtue of colour you've got less margin for error. And that's particularly true for black boys."
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In Ferguson, Missouri, and New York city, two separate grand juries decided not to indict white officers involved in the killing of black suspects, setting off a wave of demonstrations nationwide.
"A country's conscience sometimes has to be triggered by some inconvenience," Obama said, calling peaceful protests "necessary."
"When they turn violent, then they're counterproductive."
Demonstrations were ongoing Monday night in Washington, New York, and Berkeley, a California city where vandalizing, looting and clashes occurred over the past two nights. Protests were also scheduled for Los Angeles.