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One president to bind them all

A year into his term as the first nonwhite US president, Obama has played down the issue of race relations. Jump-starting the economy is what will best serve Americans of all backgrounds.

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Make no mistake about it: Race still matters. But it matters less than it did. That’s a good thing to acknowledge as Americans honor the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and mark one year in office of the first black (or biracial, if you’d rather) president.

Dr. King lived through the Depression. Its hardships affected him deeply. If he were around today he might be mostly talking about the great recession that’s hit Americans of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. Perhaps he would question whether the unbridled excesses of capitalism that led to Wall Street’s collapse were the best means for building a sound economy for everyone.

Despite tough times that find African-Americans out of work at a much higher rate (16 percent) than Americans in general (10 percent), blacks have become much more optimistic about the future during the past year, according to a new poll.
Remarkably, 39 percent of African-Americans say the “situation of black people in this country” is better than it was five years earlier. That’s up from just 20 percent who said that in a similar 2007 poll.

That may be largely because of the “Obama effect” – the idea that a black can become president, according to Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, which conducted the poll. What’s more, a majority of blacks (53 percent) now expect that life for them will be better in the future. In 2007, only 44 percent saw a brighter future.

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