It's hard to complain about racial slights without sounding thin-skinned. Just living life as a minority can breed a certain paranoia, a sensitivity to being dissed because of religion, nationality or skin color.
Still, it's not my imagination that Obama's ascent did little to loosen our nation's grip on prejudice.
Racial animosity has actually increased in the last four years. A recent poll on racial attitudes by the Associated Press found "anti-black sentiments" in 56% of voters, up from 49% in 2008.
Republicans were more comfortable expressing overt disdain; 79%, compared to 32% of Democrats, agreed with statements like "I think blacks are irresponsible." But the poll found that 55% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans harbor hostile latent feelings about black people.
If you've never been on the receiving end of those sentiments, you have the luxury of believing they don't exist. But I understand now what my mother meant when she used to say "I know it when I see it."
It's hard to explain to my white friends why I get teary-eyed sometimes just watching Barack Obama stride — like he owns the place — across the lawn of the White House.
My parents were raised in the segregated South. My father's family fled Georgia just ahead of a lynch mob. My mother came to Cleveland from Alabama, and used to marvel at the sight of "white and colored" socializing together.
And I still remember childhood visits to my grandparents' farm — being told to drink only from "colored" fountains and warned not to try on clothing while shopping.
I marvel at the road we've trod. How, in the space of just 50 years, has my country come so far?
In 2008, I didn't think it had. I didn't trust the polls putting Obama ahead. I drove to Inglewood on election night, because I couldn't bear being disappointed in Northridge. And when the winner was declared, every person in that restaurant cheered and applauded.
Some, stunned by the sight of a first family that looks like us, just grabbed the stranger next to them and bawled.
Those moments of pride overcame a lifetime of doubt.
Now four years later, my friend complains that hope has faded and not enough has changed to give Obama another chance.
And in the midst of this deeply polarized election, bound to reflect a race-based tilt, we're being asked to believe that the ugly Republican campaign rhetoric has nothing racial to it.
I don't. There's hope. But real progress will only come when we are willing to deal honestly with uncomfortable, homegrown truths.