Because of our nation's extremely complex history with racial issues, there have never been any "good old days" for race relations in America. We began as a slaveholding nation that simultaneously held the contradictory belief that "all men were created equal," actually fought a civil war in large part over slavery, and eventually we moved on from government mandated discrimination against black Americans for their skin color to government mandated discrimination against white Americans for their skin color.
Because of our tumultuous, knurly history, opinions over race vary wildly. Some people, many of whom grew up with ugly bigotry during the sixties, talk about the country today as if Democrats like Bull Connor and George Wallace were still representative of the views of many Americans. On the other hand, some Americans deny racism exists at all -- although most Americans, quite wisely, fall somewhere in between.
Against this backdrop came Barack Obama with an unspoken promise: elect me as President and America can put race in the rear view mirror once and for all. After all, if Americans elected a black President, how racist could the country really be? Moreover, if, as many liberals claimed, Barack Obama would win the presidency unless America is racist, then didn't his victory mean America isn't racist?
Over the long haul, Barack Obama's victory will probably improve race relations in America, but over the short haul? Not so much. There are several reasons why that's the case.
1) Black Democrats put race first to elect Obama: It's no longer a surprise when black Democrats vote as an almost monolithic block for Democratic candidates over Republicans. It's just something that has come to be expected.
However, when black Americans started voting for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton by the same lopsided margins that people normally saw in general elections, it sent a simple message: With black Americans, race comes first. If white Americans felt the same way, there's certainly no way that Barack Obama could ever have been elected President.
Additionally, many white Americans pride themselves on having internalized Martin Luther King's immortal words,
"I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
It's rather discouraging to know that the overwhelming majority of black Americans only believe those words when it suits their purposes.
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