Barack Obama, the One-Man Racial Reconciliator
Barack Obama is spreading racial reconciliation just by being elected president, reports Susan Saulny (along with several contributing reporters scattered around the country) in Sunday's laudatory front-page survey, "In Obama Era, Voices Reflect Rising Sense of Racial Optimism."
Although the civil rights movement gave Samuel Sallis equality under the law a long time ago, he was left wanting most of his life, he says, for the subtle courtesies and respect he thought would come with it. Being a working-class black man downtown here meant being mostly ignored, living a life invisible and unacknowledged in a larger white world.
"I think what's happened with a number of white people who have come up and started talking to me is they feel comfortable with him, and that makes it O.K. to come up and engage me," said Chester J. Fontenot Jr., an English professor at Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
Then Mr. Sallis, 69, noticed a change.
"I've been working downtown for 30 years, so I've got a good feeling for it," Mr. Sallis said. "Since President Obama started campaigning, if I go almost anywhere, it's: 'Hi! Hello, how are you, sir?' I'm talking about strangers. Calling me 'sir.'"
He added: "It makes you feel different, like, hey - maybe we are all equals. I'm no different than before. It's just that other people seem to be realizing these things all around me."
In dozens of interviews in seven states over the last several days, black men and women like Mr. Sallis said they were feeling more optimistic about race relations than even a year ago, when Mr. Obama emerged as a serious presidential contender after a string of primary and caucus victories. Many whites said they were feeling better, too, expressing an invigorated sense of openness toward people of other races.
The Times cited two left-wing reports to balance the idea "that racial prejudice has disappeared" before piling on more anecdotes on howblacks and whites arefinally getting along, now that a black president is in the White House:
In a recent report to law enforcement agencies, the Homeland Security Department warned that right-wing extremists could use Mr. Obama's election as a recruiting tool. And the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, reported finding 926 active groups in the United States in 2008, up 50 percent from 2000.
Still, Mr. Sallis said, "it feels like there's a possibility now that wasn't there before."
In Tampa, Fla., Milton Patrick, 33, an auditor who is black, went to a baseball game this spring for the first time at the invitation of his white colleagues. In Karen Jackson's multiracial Los Angeles office, where race, politics and religion were once taboo subjects, Ms. Jackson, a black woman, said people were engaging her in friendly and meaningful discussions. And in Brooklyn, Shel Harris, a black man, said he dropped his "skeptical, more on guard" attitude toward whites after working alongside so many on the Obama campaign.
In just over 100 days, Mr. Obama's presidency seems to have done much to alter the greater American public's perception of race relations.
And perhaps, in some cases, even the reality.