"When the jurors heard evidence of Fuhrman possibly fabricating evidence, these were things that, instead of it being difficult to believe, these people on this particular jury, said of course that's possible," says Richard Gabriel, a trial consultant who served on the Simpson defense team. That assertion also rang true enough to the huge number of black people who watched the trial, many of whom also had had run-ins with cops.
What made the Simpson trial so important when it comes to how blacks and whites view each other was sheer number of people who watched it unfold. The televised verdict drew more than 100 million viewers, more than 90% of the people who happened to be watching television at that time.
The immigration wave
In 1965, as Congress was debating and passing major civil rights legislation, lawmakers decided to end what they saw as racial discrimination in the country's immigration policy. That year they passed an immigration reform act that did away with numerical quotas -- the set number of people that could enter the United States from particular countries that were heavily skewed toward European nations. Instead, the new law set up a system based on allowing people who have family already in the country to immigrate. No one thought the change would amount to much. "It does not affect the lives of millions," President Lyndon Johnson said at the signing ceremony. "It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives or add importantly to either our wealth or our power."
Five decades later the law, and subsequent measures in 1986 and 1990, has spawned the largest influx of immigrants since the Ellis Island wave at the beginning of the 20th century. The number of American residents born outside the country rose from 9.6 million in 1970 to more than 40 million in 2010. And the foreign-born had a much different hue. In 1960, 75% of them were white Europeans. By 2010, 81% came from Asia and Latin America, mainly Mexico. The huge wave of immigrants, coupled with higher birth rates among Hispanics has led to predictions that whites will be in the minority by midcentury.
For the most part, this immigration wave has added to blacks' political power as Hispanics and Asians have, for example, backed the same candidate for president in recent elections. There have been tensions, particularly pitting blacks and Hispanics on one side and Asians on the other over affirmative action policies. There is a suspicion among some black people that the greater acceptance of Asians by white people -- as evidence in the remarkably high intermarriage rates -- gives some whites a "racial escape valve," to say in essence, "How can I be racist? Look who I married."
But the main tension comes from those whites who feel threatened by the explosive demographic shift and a fear that "their" country is becoming unrecognizable.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that supports limiting immigration, says those fears are exacerbated by the concept of "multiculturalism," government classification of people by their race or ethnicity and the extension of some affirmative action programs to immigrants. Given those developments, Krikorian says that "increasing, through immigration, the percentage of so-called nonwhites in the population does create a very powerful incentive for a white identity or a white nationalism. If everyone has to fight to divide up the spoils, then you better get a team to belong to."
The election of President Barack Obama
There is, perhaps, no event that signaled the remarkable progress the country has made in race relations than the election -- and the re-election -- of its first African-American president.
There is no argument that the election of a black president spoke volumes about the progress blacks had made since the end of slavery and legal segregation. That Obama garnered a higher percentage of the white vote in 2008 than did Democrats John Kerry, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale in their elections spoke volumes about how much racial attitudes in the country had changed. And the fact he was elected as the country was plunging into its worst economic slump since the Great Depression had its own significance.
"What is most important about [Obama's election] was that for the first time in the nation's history, to get us out of a jam, we turned to and trusted a black man," wrote Robert O. Self, an associate history professor at Brown University.
The election result was seen as enormous racial boost for the country. A day after the polls closed, 70% of respondents in a Gallup poll said race relations would improve with Obama's election. Two-thirds said that his election was the most or among the most significant events with regard to race in the last 100 years. Blacks reacted with a mixture of disbelief and pride.
"We just felt so much better about ourselves," says Julian Bond.
Though Obama's white support eroded during his first term, he was still able to make up for it with huge winning margins among black, Hispanic, Asian and young voters, signaling the new power of minorities and the generation shift in attitudes regarding race.
As with every leap forward in the racial arena, Obama's election has not come without costs. While his policies have been credited with halting the economic crisis the country was suffering through when he entered office, he has been unable, in the face of stiff Republican resistance, to enact further measures to bolster a weak recovery. As a result, it has been black people, his most loyal supporters, who have suffered the most economically during his tenure.
Also, his election has unleashed a torrent of racially tinged invective toward him. Throughout the country's history, presidents' opponents have based much of their criticism on the chief executive's personal characteristics and foibles. It should not be surprising that, in this case, one of the most frequent lines of personal attacks involves Obama's race.
Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, Obama's election spawned the view among some whites that no more needed to be done to advance the progress of African-Americans, and that since a black man occupied the Oval Office, anti-discrimination measures such as the Voting Rights Act are were no longer needed.
To some that may ring true. Others are more inclined to believe Jelani Cobb , director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut, who wrote earlier this year that, "the only impediment to realizing the creed of 'We Shall Overcome' is the narcotic belief that we already have."