It's incredibly unfair that it worked out this way but I think the historical take of the biggest success of the Obama presidency will be this.
As a white, suburban, middle++ aged liberal, I saw the run up to his first election as proof of what I believed for a long time - we were in a post-racial world where the only thing that was holding individuals of color back was a willingness to do the hard work that the rest of us were doing to get ahead.
The re-surfacing of the hidden racism that had become invisible to me was (and is) worldview shattering. The breadth and depth and virulence of both institutional and individual racism is so enormous that I have a hard time coming to grips with it. I'm entirely embarrassed by my pre-Obama beliefs and am still trying to figure out what I can do to move from being part of the problem and becoming part of the solution.
While discussing Ferguson with folks who fall in to the "don't think there's any racism" category, I'm seeing a shift. Events like this, and the pro-protester media coverage seems to be chipping away at the middle. More people are starting to see the world like it really is.
Looping back to my hypothesis, I suspect that without an Obama presidency, the lens through which we view the current events would have been much less sympathetic to the protesters.
It’s a sad comment on the state of law enforcement, but I now encourage people who see the police doing something that seems out of the ordinary to document it with pictures or video and save it (if not post it online). I say that reluctantly, because law enforcement is not, per se, our enemy: “To protect and serve” is deeply honorable motto, and communities are vastly better off where it is followed in good faith. But law enforcement today too often violates the civil liberties of those they are sworn to protect, and the increasing militarization of American law enforcement (an offshoot of the Wars on (Some) Drugs and Terror) is poisoning the trust of many citizens. (For others, particularly in minority communities who have borne the brunt of the “broken windows” model, that trust died long ago.).
Video and pictures are an equalizer: they’re not the only ones, and most of the power remains with the state, but they can be essential tools to help restore some balance in a system that, in recent years, has tilted in favor of those who interpret “protect and serve” as license to act with impunity. Among other uses, documentation and dissemination is helping professional and citizen journalists alike bring more clarity to events like those in Ferguson, via “crowd-powered” coverage.
The response of some in American law enforcement to the increasing prevelance of cameras has been to conduct a flagrantly unconstitutional “war on photography” aimed, in so many cases, at preventing citizens from holding them accountable for their actions.
Around the year 1500, an assistant to the Venetian ambassador to England was struck by the strange attitude to parenting that he had encountered on his travels.
He wrote to his masters in Venice that the English kept their children at home "till the age of seven or nine at the utmost" but then "put them out, both males and females, to hard service in the houses of other people, binding them generally for another seven or nine years". The unfortunate children were sent away regardless of their class, "for everyone, however rich he may be, sends away his children into the houses of others, whilst he, in return, receives those of strangers into his own".
It was for the children's own good, he was told - but he suspected the English preferred having other people's children in the household because they could feed them less and work them harder.