By Kevin Liptak, CNN White House Producer
(CNN) President Barack Obama’s election in 2008 broke a racial barrier that set soaring expectations for an era of improved race relations.
Now, as he departs office, those hopes have largely evaporated. Tensions between African-American communities and police departments have deteriorated following a slate of high-profile shootings of unarmed black men. The man who will replace Obama in January was a leading peddler of the racially-tinged “birther” myth. A majority of Americans now say relations between blacks and whites have worsened since Obama took office.
Obama has said he never believed his election could completely erase centuries of racial conflict in America. But the decline in racial ties is nonetheless an ironic legacy for the first African-American president, one Fareed Zakaria explores in the CNN Special Report “The Legacy of Barack Obama” airing Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
In interviews, Obama and those who worked closely with him identify a strain of racial bias that hardened against the President, even as his election crumbled a historic racial wall.
“I think there’s a reason why attitudes about my presidency among whites in Northern states are very different from whites in Southern states,” Obama told Zakaria. “Are there folks whose primary concern about me has been that I seem foreign, the other? Are those who champion the ‘birther’ movement feeding off of bias? Absolutely.”
Obama said he didn’t view racism as a major component of mainstream Republican opposition to his policies. Instead, he said it exists on the political fringe. Those who have worked for him, however, do identify race as a factor in consistent Republican efforts to stymie Obama’s agenda in Washington.