It would depend on what we mean by ‘improved’. And it may be some time before we can tell. The symbolism of Barack Obama as the first African-American president is really profound, and over time I think we’re going to come to appreciate the importance of that – and in many ways, the election of Donald Trump is a reaction to it.
Obama is the exception. Trump is the rule. This is America. There’s a reason why the presidents prior to Obama were all white men, and why the president who comes after him is a white man – 45 guys, one of them black. It was interesting in the last few days of the campaign to watch Beyonce, Jay-Z, LeBron James – these are people who are part of the Obamasphere – campaigning for Hillary Clinton. I kept thinking that when Obama was running in 2008, there was this Bruce Springsteen concert where people were waiting for Springsteen to finish so Obama could come on and talk. I don’t think anyone was waiting for Beyonce and Jay-Z to finish so Hillary Clinton could come on and talk. So a lot has changed in eight years, and we will continue to see how profound these changes are, but I think it’s probably too soon to fully assess the impact he has had on minorities.
Anybody with that silly post-racial talk. . . well, look what just happened. America was so post-racial that it followed the first black president by electing a racist. America’s history is a racist history. One presidential election doesn’t magically wipe away that history. You don’t have to have every citizen in the country vote for you to become president, and a lot of people didn’t vote for Barack Obama. For people who want to sweep racism under the rug, who are thinking that this day is going to come when you can hold a press conference and say ‘Racism is over’. . . that’s not the way it works.
“Look what just happened. America was so 'post-racial' that it followed the first black president by electing a racist.”
This idea that the presidency should be used to help African-Americans I thought was kind of short-sighted. If you want to help African-Americans, being president of the United States is probably not the most direct route. I know a lot of people were critical of him about this. For me, the moment when Barack Obama said Trayvon Martin could have been his son, I thought: as president, that’s probably about the best he can do. When he tried assert his opinion in the case involving Henry Louis Gates and his encounter with the cop in his home, and Obama said the cop acted stupidly, the blowback was massive. It seemed like after that he pulled back.
But when Barack Obama ran to be president of the United States, he was running to be president for the whole country. He wasn’t running to be president of the NAACP. So for all these people who said he didn’t do anything for the black community. . . what did you think he was going to do? You don’t get to be president and then say, I’m going to help out my own constituency – at least not overtly so. Anybody who thought this was going to mean African-Americans were going to start getting better treatment didn’t understand the nature of the office. It’s not his job, when he becomes president, to do anything for black people – though he shouldn’t do anything to block black people, either.
Electing Barack Obama was not the end of racism. To assume that this was a cure-all was naïve at best, and dumb, if I’m being less generous. A lot of people don’t want to recognise that a guy can start a political campaign by questioning the birth certificate of the first African-American president, and eventually be elected to succeed him. What does that say?