Racism in America is an institutional “white man’s problem visited on people of colour,” Joe Biden has said.
The former vice president said the way to attack the issue is to defeat President Donald Trump and hold him responsible for deepening America’s racial divide.
Taking aim at Mr Trump, Mr Biden said in an interview with a small group of reporters that a president’s words can “appeal to the worst damn instincts of human nature,” just as they can move markets or take a nation into war.
Mr Biden is leading his Democratic challengers for the presidential nomination in almost all polls, largely because of the support of black voters.
He has made appealing to them central to his candidacy and vowed to make maximising black and Latino turnout an “overwhelming focus” of his effort.
“White folks are the reason we have institutional racism,” Mr Biden said.
“There has always been racism in America. White supremacists have always existed, they still exist.” He said if he became president, it would “not be tolerated.”
Turnout and enthusiasm among black voters will be critical for the Democratic nominee in trying to reclaim states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Mr Biden emphasised a crossover appeal to both black voters and non-college-educated whites.
To accentuate his appeal to black voters, Mr Biden said that he will advertise in black publications and engage with cultural institutions such as black churches, black fraternities and sororities and historically black colleges.
“The bad news is I have a long record. The good news is I have a long record,” Mr Biden said when asked about his enduring support among black voters.
“People know me – at least they think they know me. I think after all this time, I think they have a sense of what my character is, who I am.”
“I’ve never, ever, ever in my entire life been in a circumstance where I’ve ever felt uncomfortable being in the black community,” he added, suggesting that his familiarity was not matched by many of his competitors.
While he did not specify to whom he was referring, Mr Biden said he believes there are “assertions and assumptions” made about black voters that he believes are inaccurate, and he said that “a lot of people haven’t spent much time in the community”.
Without mentioning her by name, Mr Biden also referenced California senator Kamala Harris’s attack on him during the first presidential debate on the issue of bussing (moving children from one area to another for school) as a solution to school desegregation.
“All I know is I don’t think anybody in the community thinks I- what’s the phrase?” Mr Biden asked, paraphrasing Ms Harris’s comment that “I know you’re not a racist, Joe.”
“I don’t think anyone thinks that about me,” Mr Biden said.
He was also asked whether he would select a woman or person of colour as his running mate should he become the nominee. He said that while he would “preferably” do so, he is ultimately seeking a partner on the ticket who is “simpatico with what I stand for and what I want to get done”.
“Whomever I pick would be preferably someone who was of colour and who was of a different gender, but I’m not making that commitment until I know that the person I’m dealing with I can completely, thoroughly trust, is authentic, and is on the same page.”
Mr Trump’s reelection campaign dismissed Mr Biden’s accusation that the president had inflamed racial tensions in the country.
“Having moved on from the Russia hoax, Democrats are now employing the oldest play in the Democrat playbook: falsely accusing their opponent of racism, extending it even to the president’s supporters. Calling half the country racist is not a winning strategy,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director.