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With Obama as president have race relations improved in America?

After the historic election of Barack Obama, have conversations about race become more common? Or has racism become more apparent?

By Jesse WashingtonAssociated Press / July 29, 2012

President Barack Obama walks from Marine One after returning to the White House on the South Lawn in Washington, Friday.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Philadelphia

Ask Americans how race relations have changed under their first black president and they are ready with answers.

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Ashley Ray, a white woman, hears more people debating racial issues. "I know a lot of people who really thought we were OK as a nation, a culture, and now they understand that we're not," she says.

Karl Douglass, a black man, sees stereotypes easing. "White people deal with me and my family differently," he says.

Jose Lozano, who is Hispanic by way of Puerto Rico, believes prejudice is emerging from the shadows. "Now the racism is coming out," he says.

In the afterglow of Barack Obama's historic victory, most people in the United States believed that race relations would improve. Nearly four years later, has that dream come true? Americans have no shortage of thoughtful opinions, and no consensus.

As the nation moves toward the multiracial future heralded by this son of an African father and white mother, the events of Obama's first term, and what people make of them, help trace the racial arc of his presidency.

Shortly before the 2008 election, 56 percent of Americans surveyed by the Gallup organization said that race relations would improve if Obama were elected. One day after his victory, 70 percent said race relations would improve and only 10 percent predicted they would get worse.

Just weeks after taking office, Obama said, "There was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination."

Then he joked, "But that lasted about a day."

Or, rather, three months.

By July 2009, the black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested for yelling at a white police officer who questioned whether Gates had broken into his own home. Asked to comment, Obama said he didn't know all the facts, but Gates was a personal friend and the officer had acted "stupidly."

The uproar was immediate. Obama acknowledged afterward, "I could've calibrated those words differently."

Ed Cattaneo, a retired computer training manager from Cape May, N.J., points to that episode as evidence of how Obama has hurt race relations.

"He's made them terrible," says Cattaneo, who is white. He also sees Obama as siding against white people through actions such as his Justice Department's decision to drop voter intimidation charges against New Black Panthers and in a program to turn out the black vote called "African-Americans for Obama."

Larry Sharkey, also white, draws different conclusions from the past four years.

"Attitudes are much better," Sharkey says as he slices raw meat in a Philadelphia butcher shop. He remembers welcoming a black family that moved next door to him 20 years ago in Claymont, Del. A white neighbor advised him not to associate with the new arrivals, warning, "Your property values are going to go down."

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