President Barack Obama - What Does It Mean

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					This January, Barack Obama became the President of the United States.It
was truly a remarkably moment in our history, for a wide variety of
reasons. Obama's inauguration marked a dramatic reversal in our national
politics, likely ending a generation of conservative Republican
domination in Washington. It brought a successful conclusion to a new
kind of campaign, one based in savvy use of the internet for political
fundraising and organizing. It captured the collective imagination of a
whole generation of young Americans, inspiring youth political engagement
in ways not seen in this country since the era of John F. Kennedy half a
century ago.

But more than anything, Barack Obama's inaugural was remarkable-”amazing,
astounding, almost unbelievable, considering the long arc of American
history-”because a black man just became the President of the United
States.      The sheer enormity of the moment almost dwarfed the
particulars of the day-”the words of Obama's excellent speech, the
pageantry of the inaugural spectacle, even the immense numbers of people
who turned out in Washington to watch the event in person.The sheer
enormity of the moment was borne of the long and difficult history of
race in this country. That story, of course, is much bigger than Barack
Obama. Much movement toward racial progress occurred before Obama ever
arrived on the scene, and much more remains to be made in the future. But
it's hard not to wonder whether what happened this year changed the
meaning of race in America, forever.The youngest of Obama's voters, those
in their late teens and early twenties, may be the least surprised about
what happened this year. They grew up in a world in which the rigid
racial boundaries of our past were just that-”a part of our past -
something that they primarily learned about in school while studying the
teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or experiencing the segregated
South through the eyes of children in To Kill a Mockingbird. (Not to say
that they didn't confront vexing racial issues of their own, but the
lines weren't drawn quite as sharply as they were in earlier eras.)But we
don't have to look too far into our nation's past to begin to see the
dark racial legacy that made Obama's election such a stunning revelation
to anyone older than about 35.As recently as the 1990s, hip-hop icon
Tupac Shakur rhymed, without generating much controversy, that -œalthough
it seems heaven sent / we ain't ready to see a black president-•; the
country divided bitterly along racial lines when a jury found former
football star OJ Simpson not guilty of murdering his white wife.As
recently as the 1970s and 1980s, white citizens rioted over school
desegregation in supposedly liberal northern cities like Boston, while
widespread demonization of black people loomed large in public debates
over welfare, crime, and affirmative action.As recently as the 1960s, it
was illegal, in many southern states, for whites and blacks to marry each
other, to share the same hotels or restaurants, to use the same bathrooms
or water fountains. Before 1965, black people who tried to vote in many
parts of this country faced violent intimidation or even death.All of
this in Barack Obama's own lifetime.All of this, without even mentioning
the even deeper past of slavery - a debate which helped spark The Civil
War - and abolition, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, the three-fifths
compromise and the -œtwenty negars-• sold into servitude in Virginia in
1619-”that's one year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.And
yet, despite all this-”or perhaps, in a strange way, because of it-”a
black man named Barack Obama this year became our president. This year,
perhaps, American history changed.

Related Articles -
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