Did President Obama help unite the country on race relations?


Fact Box

  • Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, raised partially by his grandparents, moved to Chicago where he later served as the Illinois state Senator, and in 2008, he became the 44th President of the United States of America. 
  • Obama picked Delaware Senator Joe Biden as his running mate on August 23, 2008, who later became the 47th US Vice President. Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972 at age 29 . By the time he entered the Vice Presidency, he had been in government nearly four decades. 
  • The Trayvon Martin (2012) and Michael Brown (2014) shootings sparked national outrage and producing the BLM movement under Obama’s tenure as President.  
  • A 2017 Pew Research study evaluating the political divide over 23 years (1994-2017) between Democrats and Republicans concluded that divisions “reached record levels” under the Obama presidency, and have grown under President Trump.

Stephanie (No)

Former President Barack Obama did not unite the country on race relations, as statistics show. Pew Research revealed there was a spike in positive racial outlooks leading up to President Obama's election. Yet by 2016, 'nearly 70 percent of Americans agreed that race relations are generally bad.' Some have argued this was largely due to President Obama disregarding racial division in 'his promise to be colorblind' while relying on other equality-related accomplishments to portray his success, such as legalizing same-sex marriage. 

However, racial tensions increased despite Obama's attempt to ignore them, proving highly frustrating for minority communities that were relying on the then-president's promise for 'change.' Uncoincidentally, Black Lives Matter was established during this time, following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, of which Obama refused to discuss for over a month, Michael Brown, and others. Also notable is that Obama was unsuccessful in actually improving the economy to benefit African Americans regarding 'unemployment, foreclosures, and evictions,' which reached record highs during his time in office.

While Obama's empty promises did nothing to improve morale, the economy, or racial issues in the media, what was perhaps most agitating was his 'racial optimism – some might say delusion.' As the first African American president, Obama had the opportunity to leave a legacy of celebrating improved race relations over the past century. Yet the 'The Obama Effect' only occurred in that he managed to worsen racial issues, leaving the country uncertain and armed to argue about topics such as institutional racism, cultural appropriation, 'identity politics,' and others that are now currently blamed on President Trump.

Andrew (Yes) 

By occupying the White House as the first black president, President Obama smashed the glass ceiling, demonstrating how all races are welcome at all government levels. The importance of being the first to do something as big as attaining the presidency cannot be overstated. It sets a precedent for what is possible and what will eventually become mainstream.

President Obama also left a concrete legacy of racial unification. The justice department's reforms lead by Obama's two black attorney generals, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, have created lasting change in racial justice in the department. The Affordable Care Act also reduced the number of uninsured African Americans by a third, helping to close the gap in healthcare between the races. Obama also commuted five times more sentences of black inmates than his predecessors and called for the closing of the private prison business. 

Perhaps the biggest contribution to racial relations in American made by the Obamas was the intangible aspect of the example they created. Barack Obama lead the nation with poise, grace, and empathy. For many African Americans, this meant a role model in the land's highest office—a sure sign that anything is possible. The optics of a Black man working together with White men to solve the massive economic and healthcare challenges of the day truly show a portrait of progress. 

Barack Obama made major progress on race relations through exemplary leadership and concrete action to improve the lives of African Americans. Always one to look forward, he said at Howard University in 2016, 'There's still so much more work to do.'

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