NPR Wonders if Obama is to Blame for Reviving America's Racial Divide

"Did having a black president in the White House — one with his own, complicated story of identity — change the rules about who belongs where in our society?"

National Public Radio is wondering if the racial divide in America has gotten worse during Obama's presidency, or if there are other factors at play. Alicia Montgomery, writing for NPR's race and culture section Code Switch, asks: "America is Obsessed with Identity. Thanks, Obama?"

(If you're wondering about code-switching, that's when, say, Obama shakes the hand of a white person in the normal fashion, but quickly shifts to a more elaborate handshake with the black person next in line, as seen here.)

Montgomery invited readers to a "Twitter chat" scheduled for Friday afternoon to talk about "The Obama Effect (#NPRObamaEffect); discussing the president's race as a factor in how identity has become more important than ever in America. She sets the stage for the discussion:

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, there was a lot of talk about "The Obama Effect": how the nation's first black president signaled a new era of racial harmony and understanding.

That didn't happen. But what did? The Obama family's tenure in the White House has overlapped a revolution in the way Americans deal with identity. From race to religion, from gender to sexual orientation and beyond, marginalized groups that historically worked and waited for "a seat at the table" increasingly demanded their share of cultural power.

And people who once assumed that they could define what it means to be American were called on to defend their ideas and "check their privilege."

But is Obama really to blame? Code Switch is intent on finding out and they aim to do so in the final year of the Obama administration:

Did having a black president in the White House — one with his own, complicated story of identity — change the rules about who belongs where in our society? Did having Michelle Obama as first lady force new discussions on femininity, race and class? And did the extended Obama family — which includes whites, Africans and Asian-Americans — push the rest of us to consider what the future of the American family may look like?

"Or," Montgomery shifts, "did something else spark all this conversation — a generational shift, changing demographics and economics, the dramatic rise of social media as a cultural force?"

Further exploration by the NPR team will decide if there is a "new appreciation for diversity" or just more awareness of divisions, and ultimately, if President Obama is "a catalyst or a bystander, a beneficiary or a victim."

Invited to join the conversation are voices from throughout academia, pop culture, race thinkers, and writers… and you! (Though she didn't specifically mention any conservative voices.)

Montgomery's final food for thought:

If you're a person of color, are you fielding more or fewer questions about your race? If you're white, do you have a new understanding about the role race plays in your own experience? What, if anything, do you think President Obama has to do with all of this?

Sound off this Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern on Twitter.

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