Did Obama’s Election Make Race Relations Worse?

April V. Taylor

For anyone who was holding out hope that the euphoria the country experienced after Barack Obama’s historic election would somehow magically improve centuries of racism, the reality has set in for many that this is just not the case.  As the nation watched Obama be inaugurated as the 44th President and the first President of color in 2012, many felt that he was ushering in a new era of race in America, one where black people had finally achieved some real, tangible sense of equality.  Commentators and political pundits talked of a post-racial America, but as Clarence Page recently pointed out in the Chicago Tribune, the racial divide in the United States is actually much deeper than many, even Obama, may have realized.

A recent Politico poll found that almost half of voters in battleground election states believe that race relations have actually gotten worse since Obama’s 2008 election.  If anything, Obama’s time in office has revealed just how impossible it is for one person to somehow heal the historic racial divide in America.  From the “beer-gate” fiasco when people overreacted to Obama’s statement that Cambridge police had behaved “stupidly” by arresting black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside of his home to his inability to adequately acknowledge the brutality and violence so many people of color suffer at the hands of law enforcement, Obama just can not seem to get it right in a way that moves the nation forward.

Perhaps Walter Lippmann summed it up best in his 1922 book, “Public Opinion,” in which he states that, “Democracy has never seriously faced the problem which arises because the pictures inside people’s heads do not automatically correspond with the world outside.”  In many ways, the reality of race relations in America is starkly different from the rosy picture many paint when they consider the lofty ideals of American equality.  Maybe part of Obama’s legacy will be having laid bare this contrast, so America can no longer deny the reality that black people and people of color are still not treated as equal and that racism in the United States all too often lends itself to human rights violations and inequalities that cannot be allowed to continue.