But in the past few years, race has featured so heavily in the American (news) story: Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Charleston S.C., riots, mobile phone footage of police toughness towards black people. And Mr Obama, it seems, is speaking up, speaking out and doing more than he did in his first term.
Last week, Mr Obama addressed the 106th national convention of the NAACP, America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. He called for sweeping reforms to fix a criminal justice system that he said was “skewed by race and wealth”.
And he said, in yet another of his recent references to his own blackness, that the NAACP was the reason he was there standing before them as president of the United States. “In your first century, this organization stood up to lynching and Jim Crow and segregation; helped to shepherd a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act. I would not be here, and so many others would not be here, without the NAACP.”
Most moving of all was his reference to how he, as a young black man, had opportunities that others do not: “I see those young men on street corners and eventually in prisons, and I think to myself, they could be me; that the main difference between me and them is I had a more forgiving environment so that when I slipped up, when I made a mistake, I had a second chance. And they’ve got no margin for error.”
Mr Obama has been introducing the personal element into the conversation about race ever since Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida. “If I had a son, he would’ve looked like Trayvon,” he said at the time.
After the Charleston church killings, he sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and talked about the long shadow of slavery and discrimination, even going to the extent of using non-PC words. He said in an interview that being non-discriminatory was “not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘n—–’ in public”.
What he’s been prescribing for social change is early childhood education and gentle Fabian measure such as his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which provides grants to programs aimed at young black men. And more recently, as The Washington Post has noted, “he has announced two major reform packages — housing last week and criminal justice on Tuesday — that could, if ultimately implemented, be of particular benefit to people of color in the United States.”
It was time.
(Tomorrow: America’s best soon-to-be ex-president? Move over Jimmy Carter)