Do you think racial politics and race relations in America are any different now than when you first took office?
Look, race has been one of the fault lines in American culture and American politics from the start. I never bought into the notion that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period. On the other hand, I've seen in my own lifetime how racial attitudes have changed and improved, and anybody who suggests that they haven't isn't paying attention or is trying to make a rhetorical point. Because we all see it every day, and me being in this Oval Office is a testimony to changes that have been taking place.
When I travel around the country, a lot of people remark on how inspiring seeing an African-American president or an African-American first lady must be to black boys and girls, how it must raise their sense of what's possible in their own lives. That's hugely important – but you shouldn't also underestimate the fact that there are a whole bunch of little white girls and white boys all across the country who just take it for granted that there's an African-American president. That's the president they're growing up with, and that's changing attitudes.
My view on race has always been that it's complicated. It's not just a matter of head – it's a matter of heart. It's about interactions. What happens in the workplace, in schools, on sports fields, and through music and culture shapes racial attitudes as much as any legislation that's passed. I do believe that we're making slow and steady progress. When I talk to Malia and Sasha, the world they're growing up with, with their friends, is just very different from the world that you and I grew up with.
Jesse Washington is the National Writer/Race and Ethnicity for The Associated Press