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Under Obama, racial hope but no change


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Six years ago, Barack Obama’s election was going to usher in a new era of racial understanding.


That hasn’t happened. Few, if any, anticipated that the man whose election itself was historic would be in a constant lose-lose situation as president when it came to race.


The protests and violence in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of Michael Brown have crystallized a larger sense within the African-American community, and civil rights leaders say they feel they’re a long way from Grant Park and a lot closer to “here we go again” on the Trayvon Martin shooting.


(See POLITICO's full coverage of Ferguson)


“Things got somewhat better because the country felt proud of itself for electing him. But I certainly think they’re worse than they were on Jan. 20, 2009,” said National Urban League President Marc Morial. “There was a sense that the country had turned the corner. I think today there may be a sense that that progress has been a proverbial step forward and two steps back.”


The economic divide, accentuated by the recession, has only widened the racial divide — the number of African-Americans who lost their own houses during the mortgage crisis, among other factors, appears to have done more to shape where race relations stand than having the first African-American in the White House. In 1950, the workforce participation among young black men was 65.2 percent. In 2012, it was 35.7 percent.


That’s not helped by many neighborhoods — Ferguson included — remaining either white or black, with little interaction between them.


“There are so many communities where you still have persistent patterns of segregation,” said Tom Perez, the Labor secretary and the former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “It leads to a lack of understanding, and that is unfortunate, and that can have ill consequences.”



The racial politics of the "post-racial" era.

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