The evolution of racial issues since Obama's historic rise

Daily Circuit Friday Roundtable
Daily Circuit Friday Roundtable
Daily Circuit illustration

This week on the Friday Roundtable, our panelists examine the state of race relations in America.

Our Roundtable guests nominate five great thinkers about race. See The Daily Circuit blog.

Five years ago, Barack Obama, then a candidate for president, gave a speech titled "A More Perfect Union" in an effort to address a controversy about inflammatory statements made by Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Wright had been criticized for suggesting, among other things, that the attacks of Sept. 11 were prompted by terrorism practiced by the United States abroad; for speculating that the United States might have invented HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and for defending the Rev. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

How have issues of race evolved since Obama's speech? Panelists joining the Roundtable to talk about race are Alexs Pate, author, poet and assistant professor of African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota; Jose Santos, assistant professor of social science at Metropolitan State University; and Leola Johnson, associate professor and chairwoman of the Media and Cultural Studies Department at Macalester College.


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Alexs Pate: The Short Stories of Anton Checkov and "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell.

Jose Santos: "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie and "Manhood in the Making" by David Gilmore.

Leola Johnson: "The Shadows of The Pomegranate Tree" by Tariq Ali.


Obama Race Speech: Read the Full Text
"I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together — unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction — towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren." (Huffington Post)

The Emancipation of Barack Obama
"You could be forgiven for looking at African-American history as a long catalog of failure. In the black community, it is a common ritual to deride individual shortcomings, and their effect on African-American prospects. The men aren't doing enough. The women are having too many babies. The babies are having babies. Their pants are falling off their backsides. But November's electoral math is clear — African-Americans didn't just vote in 2012, they voted at a higher rate than the general population." (The Atlantic)

Fear of a Black President
"As a candidate, Barack Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America's original sin, slavery. But as our first black president, he has avoided mention of race almost entirely. In having to be 'twice as good' and 'half as black,' Obama reveals the false promise and double standard of integration." (The Atlantic)

Obama's Body and the Liberal Body Politic
"At the height of his campaign for the Presidency, in the spring of 2008, Barack Obama was widely regarded by white liberals as a black savior figure, the type of black man recognized by critics and historians alike as a Magic Negro, a fictional character whose roots are deeply embedded in U.S. culture, and whose role is to be a healer of white angst and pain." (Essay by Prof. Leola Johnson, Internal Journal of Communication)

Being White in Philly
"I've begun to think that most white people stopped looking around at large segments of our city, at our poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods, a long time ago. One of the reasons, plainly put, is queasiness over race. Many of those neighborhoods are predominantly African-American. And if you're white, you don't merely avoid them — you do your best to erase them from your thoughts." (Philadelphia magazine)

Did President Obama really better race relations in America?
"Many people expected that the election of America's first black president in 2008 would finally close the ugly race chapter in American history. Instead, there appears to be more emphasis on race, poverty, economic disparity, and on what divides us rather than what brings us together." (The Hill)

Shifts In Race Relations Since Obama's Election
"President Barack Obama's election in 2008 sparked many discussions about how race relations would change in the United States. Many Americans hoped that the election of a black man to the highest office would provide opportunities for breakthroughs in racial equality and understanding." (NPR)