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Watching Barack Obama’s presidential victory in November 2008, nearly every observer seemed to grasp the historic importance of the moment. Our nation, born amid ideals of human equality while economically tethered to black slavery—and then for a century more to federally-condoned, nationwide discrimination—had just elected its first black commander in chief. Clearly, America had taken another huge stride toward living out the meaning of its creed. After all, Obama unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton in very white states like Idaho and Iowa to win his party’s nomination. Then he picked up some unlikely victories within the former Confederacy, namely Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, to help him best John McCain in the general election by 7 percentage points. White people cheered, proud to play a role in this welcome sign of racial progress. People of color cried for joy, feeling finally, as Boise’s Yvonne McCoy told the Idaho Statesman, a sense of genuine belonging in America. Perhaps all children could indeed become whatever they set their minds to. Four years of video footage showing the black First Family stepping out of the president’s helicopter and strolling across the White House lawn has surely helped rewire our brains to perceive American power in a more multicultural package, and to normalize this reality.

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Originally published in The Blue Review, an online journal of popular scholarship published by the Boise State University College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs. Provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license. Details regarding the use of this work can be found at

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