The NAACP-Tea Party debate has at times escalated into name-calling and accusations of racism. It's ugly – and a far cry from those days when many Americans thought we had turned a corner on race relations with the election of America's first African-American president. Observers say it's the same racial stalemate America's been stuck in for years. Still, not so long ago, Americans were hopeful.
On the day before President Obama's inauguration - a Washington Post poll showed nearly 6 in 10 Americans said his presidency would advance cross-racial ties. By January, 2010, about 4 in 10 believed that. "Anytime we've seen racial progress in the United States, we've seen racial backlash," says William Jelani Cobb, author of "The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress."
Cobb reminds us that even President Obama said he did not believe his election would bring about racial harmony. In a major speech about race in March, 2008, Obama said: I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy -particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own." The only other time Obama broached the race issue in a substantive way was in July of 2009 - during the now infamous - and, some say, disastrous, "beer summit."
Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley says don't expect the President to play peacemaker this time around. "The Tea Party is the #1 enemy of the Administration and the NAACP is very strong behind President Obama. But you will not see our President trying somehow to use this moment in a healing way. He's going to ignore it and stay above the fray." Cobb says the Obama presidency's impact on race relations cannot be measured in the short term. "Let's not forget that fifty million white Americans voted for an African-American candidate," he says. "We won't really know what the real significance is for many years to come."