President-elect Barack Obama repeatedly called for unity and change during his historic campaign.
Because his candidacy stirred a national dialogue on race, several Wichitans said his win could result in richer and more diverse personal relationships for people of all backgrounds.
"This election is a great launching pad to have open discussions on race," said William Hoston, a Wichita State University assistant professor of political science, who is black.
Obama's ascendance also coincides with U.S. Census Bureau projections that minorities could compose the nation's majority in coming decades. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to drop from 66 percent of the population in 2008 to 46 percent in 2050.
"Unless white America is willing to embrace change," Hoston said, "race will continue to be a problem."
Still, Americans have high expectations of the president-elect's ability to mediate racial issues. In a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 8 in 10 people surveyed said Obama will improve conditions for minorities and the poor, and 76 percent said he will increase respect for the United States abroad.
And the election offers signs of hope that efforts are under way to overcome racial rifts, Hoston and others said.
Black, Hispanic and Asian voters overwhelmingly supported Obama, who captured 43 percent of white people's votes, according to national exit polls reported by CNN.
Even though he didn't vote for Obama, Bob Weeks, an information technology consultant and blogger who is white, said he's happy to see that Obama's win tore down a barrier.
"I felt some sense of pride that Americans were able to vote for a man based upon his character rather than the color of his skin," he said. "I think that's a good thing for our country."
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