By Pat St. Claire, CNN
(CNN) – When Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States there was a hope that his election would usher in a sea change; an almost magical transformation of race relations. But nearly four years later that has not happened. In fact, according to surveys designed by the Associated Press and several leading universities, racial attitudes have not improved during the Obama presidency. They have worsened.
Deidre Okonkwo knows all about the racial divide. She's a tall, slim woman with a welcoming smile who lives in a decidedly conservative, mostly Republican suburb of Atlanta with her husband and three children. Okonkwo is white and her husband, the sculptor, Nnamdi Okonkwo, is Nigerian.
[:22] "I'm from the west, Idaho, and I can see the racial tensions. There is a reason why blacks should feel the way they do because of what they went through. And we don't understand that and we never will. But, we have to first realize that there is something there."
Even though Okonkwo thinks highly of President Obama, she's not sold on his politics. She finds him intelligent and a good person with a lovely family. But she has philosophical differences with his political agenda.
[1:00] "It's the "fish" story. Teach people how to fish and that will help them more than giving them the fish. I can see he might have a good heart because he wants to give people the fish; that's the different philosophies. But, my philosophy is it's better to teach them to fish and then they can help themselves."
Reverend Donald Bryant is the pastor of Friendship Community Church in College Park, Georgia, a predominately African American suburb of Atlanta. He encourages his congregation to vote, but doesn't advocate one candidate over another. However, he does say he feels the racial divide is growing. And, surprisingly he agrees with Governor Mitt Romney's now infamous comment about writing off the 47% of Americans who are "dependent on government, who believe that they are victims."
[3:09] "Believe it or not I think he was right" says Bryant. But, there's a caveat. "A major concern would be how would he address that 47 percent? Would his approach to that 47%, that he felt like he would never be able to get, would he be as supportive of them as he would that 47% who were, as he sees it, in his corner all along?"
Andra Gillespie is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Emory University in Atlanta and an expert in African American politics. She says a lot of people expected that race relations would improve in the United States by having an example of an African American president front and center on the news every day. She says when that didn't happen, it was surprising.
[2:16] "We knew that whites who had lived in cities with African American mayors had better impressions of African Americans as leaders and harbored less racial resentment than those who had never experienced black mayoral leadership. And, I think we thought that nationally once everyone had experienced an African American president racial prejudices would subside."
Gillespie says there's a need to temper expectations of racial reconciliation because progress is usually not linear. She says, in this case, the process is incremental and slow.
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