The Washington Post reports "an overwhelming public openness to the idea of electing an African American to the presidency."
In a Post-ABC News poll last month, nearly nine in 10 whites said they would be comfortable with a black president. While fewer whites, about two-thirds, said they would be "entirely comfortable" with it, that was more than double the percentage of all adults who said they would be so at ease with someone entering office for the first time at age 72, which McCain (R-Ariz.) would do should he prevail in November.
But the good news may stop there. "As Sen. Barack Obama opens his campaign as the first African American on a major party presidential ticket, nearly half of all Americans say race relations in the country are in bad shape and three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice," according to the same poll.
Overall, 51 percent call the current state of race relations "excellent" or "good," about the same as said so five years ago. That is a relative thaw from more negative ratings in the 1990s, but the gap between whites and blacks on the issue is now the widest it has been in polls dating to early 1992.
More than six in 10 African Americans now rate race relations as "not so good" or "poor," while 53 percent of whites hold more positive views. Opinions are also divided along racial lines, though less so, on whether blacks face discrimination. There is more similarity on feelings of personal racial prejudice: Thirty percent of whites and 34 percent of blacks admit such sentiments.
Moreover, the Post reports in a separate story that Obama's historic primary victory "has also sparked an increase in racist and white supremacist activity, mainly on the Internet, according to leaders of hate groups and the organizations that track them."
Neo-Nazi, skinhead and segregationist groups have reported gains in numbers of visitors to their Web sites and in membership since the senator from Illinois secured the Democratic nomination June 3. His success has aroused a community of racists, experts said, concerned by the possibility of the country's first black president.
"I haven't seen this much anger in a long, long time," said Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution in Russellville, Ark. "Nothing has awakened normally complacent white Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly nonwhite president."
Watch the American News Project's recent piece exploring the phenomenon of "white nationalism":