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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?

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

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.

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