Roundtable: Obama's Rise Affecting Race Relations?

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Barack Obama and supporters

Supporters reach out to shake hands with Barack Obama in Bristow, Virginia. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

After clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama is within a whisper of becoming the nation's first black president.

But according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, "even as the nation crosses a racial threshold when it comes to politics ... many of the racial patterns in society remain unchanged."

NPR's Tony Cox spoke with three contributors to the online magazine, Jack White, a former columnist for TIME magazine; William Jelani Cobb, a writer, blogger, and associate professor of history at Spelman College; and Marjorie Valbrun, an award-winning reporter who teaches journalism at Howard University.

Offering his analysis, Cobb said many people make the mistake of viewing Obama's campaign as "a magic bullet, somehow being an antidote for the past 200 years of racial history in this country." Cobb attributed the gap in racial perceptions to "people's lived experiences."

According to the poll, black Democrats were 24 points more likely than white Democrats to have a favorable opinion of Barack Obama.

"[Obama] still hasn't closed the deal with a lot of white voters," said Valbrun. But she added, "He is not as 'scary' [to white voters] as someone who comes with a very strong civil rights agenda. He doesn't have the baggage of being raised a product of the Civil Rights Movement."

If Obama were to win the election in November, White said, it would signal to blacks that racial barriers are not insurmountable: "When you tell yours kids, 'You, too, can grow up to be president of the United States,'" he said, "it just won't be an empty platitude."



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