Obama on America's racial divide: 'We have made progress'

'As painful as these incidents are, we can't equate what's happening now to what was happening 50 years ago,' president says

In an interview scheduled to air Monday, President Barack Obama said race issues spotlighted by recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the killings of unarmed black men are "not going to be solved overnight," but he added that it's also important to recognize the progress the United States has made on civil rights.

"This is something that's deeply rooted in our society, it's deeply rooted in our history," Obama told BET News in the interview. "But the two things that are going to allow us to solve it: No. 1 is the understanding that we have made progress. And so it's important to recognize — as painful as these incidents are — we can't equate what's happening now to what was happening 50 years ago.

"If you talk to your parents, grandparents, uncles, they'll tell you that things are better — not good, in some cases, but better," he continued. "And the reason it's important for us to understand progress has been made is that then gives us hope that we can make even more progress."

The president also encouraged young Americans not to give up the fight for equal rights.

"The second thing is ... we have to be persistent, because typically progress is in steps," Obama said. "It's in increments. 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 recognize that it is going to take some time and you just have to be steady, so that you don't give up when we don't get all the way there."

Obama's comments come as protests continue around the country in the wake of last week's decision by a New York grand jury not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July death of Eric Garner.

An NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday shows a deep racial divide when it comes to confidence in police.

According to the survey, conducted December 4-5, 47 percent of Americans say that law enforcement applies different standards to blacks and whites, while 44 percent disagree. However, 82 percent of African Americans said that police apply different standards based on race, as compared to only 39 percent of white people polled.

The poll also found that just 30 percent of Americans approve of the way Obama has handled the cases in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City, while 46 percent disapprove.