Editor’s Note: Dorothy A. Brown is a law professor at Emory University. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN, and for more on history’s high-stakes elections, watch the CNN Original Series “Race for the White House” on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

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On the night of Barack Obama’s election as president, as the results pointed toward a history-defining win for the junior senator from Illinois, former US Secretary of Education Bill Bennett remarked on what his victory would mean for American race relations.

Dorothy A. Brown

“I’ll tell you one thing it means,” Bennett said. “You don’t take any excuses anymore from anybody who says, ‘The deck is stacked, I can’t do anything.’”

Apparently, we’d arrived at a post-racial moment in America.

Except we hadn’t. Obama did not win a majority of the white vote in either 2008 or 2012 and a majority of Americans believe that race relations got worse while he was in office.

Black Americans, particularly, learned just how racist America remained. And eight years later, the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States completely laid bare the racist underbelly still present in America.

You cannot understand what the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 means without the election of Trump as his replacement. Trump led the way on the birtherism movement that challenged our first black president’s citizenship; that his election directly followed that first black presidency makes it all the more significant. Racism, not economic anxiety, helped put Trump in the White House, as one 2018 analysis of voters showed.

The election of our first black president followed by the election of Trump did not mean that we were post-racial; quite the contrary. The election of Donald Trump pulls the air out of the post-racial balloon, because it is hard to support Trump’s policies and oppose racism, unless you regularly walk in denial.

To support Trump is to oppose immigration when people are Muslim, black and/or brown while not being concerned about the questions raised around the immigration situation of the first lady’s family. To support this President is to claim your opposition to abortion is that you value life, without questioning his call for the death penalty as five innocent teenagers faced charges for a crime they did not commit. To support Trump is to support a presidency that has left us with children as young as toddlers fenced in at the border, hate crimes at a 16-year high and white nationalists marching in Washington, DC.

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    If there is a silver lining in a Trump presidency, it is that all of America can see what has been so readily apparent to people of color: We are not, and never were, post-racial, even when we elected a black man to become the leader of the free world.

    But this isn’t even the most troubling part of the 2016 election — that would be the Russian interference that capitalized on our racial divide.

    The most fascinating thing to me is how Russia understood the moment we were in during the 2016 election, but not most white Americans. Russia knew we weren’t post-racial. Russian activities that targeted black Americans on social media were designed to get black voters to boycott the election or follow incorrect voting procedures. The Russians have long understood racism in America, yet many white Americans still do not. Racism is as American as apple pie. Racism is who we are. It is who we have always been.

    The question is whether we are destined to remain that way. Judging from their stump speeches and talking points, the 2020 Democratic field does not appear to have learned much from the 2008 and 2016 elections.

    Biden wants us to go back to a time when Republicans and Democrats could work together. But to what effect? Striving for bipartisan deal-making was a hallmark of Obama’s administration, yet the evidence of our racial divide was still starkly apparent. It was during Obama’s first term that Trayvon Martin was shot, and his killer acquitted. Cell phones have made more of a difference than our elected officials.

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s handling of issues with black officers in South Bend raises serious questions about his ability to make inroads with a core constituency of the Democratic base — black voters. Bloomberg’s criminal justice policies could also hurt his support among this demographic, although he’s picked up three Congressional Black Caucus endorsements.

    Only Elizabeth Warren seems to consistently address racism, either when it comes to housing, student debt, or criminal justice reform — yet critics have questioned her electability. While the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary results were certainly not what she hoped, Warren received more votes than Biden in both.

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    Sanders has had difficulties breaking through with black voters who aren’t young, and Joe Rogan’s endorsement, given his racist rhetoric, will not help his cause.

    Most of today’s Democratic candidates do not seem to understand the important moment we are in.

    The historic election of Barack Obama and the political upheaval that’s followed allows anyone paying attention to see that we have not turned a corner when it comes to racism. And now that we know, what comes next? Will we turn Trump’s election into an opportunity to tackle racism head-on, or remain in our comfort zones? I know one thing: Russia will be watching.