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Barack Obama has made history by dispatching to the dustbin another usage for the tiresome phrase “first black.” As president, he is also going to make the future, both during his term and long after. The country’s racial-ethnic landscape, with its dangerous crevices and sheer mountains, is about to change in monumental ways.

His presence in the White House will promote more interracial dialogue, for one, and for the good of the country. This will not be a small change. The novelist Richard Wright once explained that he chose exile in Paris in the 1940s because he could not have an honest conversation about race in America. Though interracial contact and discussion has increased since then, not enough has come with candor. To enter a truly “post-racial” era, a period when race is recognized but does not shape attitudes, people will need to talk more and more honestly. President Obama and his black nuclear family, and his white, Kenyan, and Filipino extended families, are quite a group for stimulating that kind of conversation. Not all will be pleasant, if it is honest, but better that resentments are spoken aloud than squelched to smolder inside.


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