Obama's rise spotlights gains in race relations

'Black, white, purple, green'

Some of those surveyed say news reporters and commentators are making too big a deal of Obama's race.

"It doesn't matter if you're black, white, purple, green — just as long as you do the right thing when you get into office," says Natanya Hopkins, 31. A student from Columbus, Ga., who is black, she supports Obama.

"I think Obama was the right person at the time," says Brian Douglas, 31, an engineer from Jericho, Vt., who is white and supports McCain. "He was the best candidate that the Democrats had at the time, regardless of race."

Among whites, only 10% say they're concerned that Obama's election would give blacks too much influence over government policies, the same number who worry that blacks would have too little influence if that happens.

On the other hand, an AP-Yahoo News poll on racial attitudes released Saturday concluded that one-third of white Democrats and independents attributed negative characteristics such as laziness or violence to blacks, creating a serious electoral hurdle for Obama. The online survey used a technique called "affect misattribution," which involves showing a series of faces of people of different races quickly on a screen before displaying a neutral image to assess.

In the USA TODAY poll, whites by 56%-29% say that a "lack of initiative" is a bigger factor than racism in the difficulties blacks face. "You have a lot of people who want something for nothing," says Tom McKenna, 61, a retiree from Aurora, Ind., who is white.

Blacks by 44%-37% also chose a lack of initiative as the more significant factor.

Across racial lines, those surveyed see Obama's candidacy as a force for change:

• An overwhelming 79% of blacks, 71% of whites and 68% of Hispanics say his nomination represents not only an individual achievement but also progress for blacks in America generally.

• By wide margins, all three groups predict his candidacy will change the way black people think about themselves. Nearly all of those say the change will be for the better.

• A 51% majority of blacks say Obama's nomination makes them prouder to be an American; 47% say it doesn't affect their feelings about the country. In comparison, 36% of whites say his nomination makes them prouder; 61% say it doesn't affect their sense of pride.

Rhodes is particularly proud that Obama won the nomination in large part because of support in primaries and caucuses from white voters. "He won in some white states like Utah and Idaho, and you can't get much whiter than that," he says.

"It wouldn't be a good thing only for African-American people to see that if you work hard you can follow your dream and things can happen," says Dominique Flournoy, 22, a black customer-service representative from Phoenix. "Those who are just becoming Americans can see that you don't have to be a certain color to achieve certain goals in life."

A matter of race and income

Flournoy doesn't expect the nation's racial problems to vanish if Obama is elected.

"Just because we may have the first African-American president, it doesn't mean that all African Americans will be living better," she says. "We still as a group of people would have to work extra hard and work just as hard as the next person to succeed."

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