When Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States, many saw it as the dawn of a new era of American race relations. During his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park, he stood before thousands who were overjoyed at the news that the man before them had broken the biggest racial barrier in U.S. politics. “Tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment, change has come to America,” he said.
And yet, almost eight years later, racial tensions remain, with events in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York City and the presidential campaign straining race relations. President Obama doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge that change is a slow-moving concept. In fact, as he told TIME in a conversation with ballerina Misty Copeland, racial tensions and history remain a topic of dinner table conversation with his daughters, Sasha and Malia.
“What I try to always transmit to my kids is that issues of race, discrimination, tragic history of slavery and Jim Crow, all those things are real,” President Obama said during a revealing conversation with Misty Copeland. “You have to understand them and be knowledgeable about them. And recognize that they didn’t stop overnight. Certainly not just when I was elected.”
He still remembers the declarations that racism was over when he got elected, he said during the Feb. 29 conversation, held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. But the notion that because he and his family were moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would erase centuries of history, is something to which he says he did not subscribe.
“But,” he says, “what I want them to draw from it is a sense of justice for everybody.”