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As Trump Is Sworn In, Supporters Debate His Role In Healing Racial Wounds

Supporters react on the National Mall to the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Ed Boutin, 62, stood to the side of the road wearing a biker vest with pins, patches and flags, and sporting a "Navy Veteran" hat. He said he traveled from Springfield, Mass. to watch Donald J. Trump, his candidate of choice, get sworn in to the nation's highest office.

The current state of race relations in America is the result of Barack Obama's presidency, Boutin said. But maybe, he said, the new administration can fix things.

"It's going to take a while to unravel what he's already done with the perpetuation of the race cards in this country," said Boutin, who is white.

"Today's going to be a good sign of how the future is going to be.

"If it's peaceful, I would remain very optimistic that we may come to a peaceful coagulation of our country, which needs to be; which I'm all for, and I think the vast majority of us are."

As the sun began to rise near the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Boutin joined hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets of Washington D.C. for the inauguration of the 45th president. There were at least 99 protest groups across the District, but they were dwarfed by the throngs of people showing their support for the incoming president. And while those supporters were discussing many of the issues that the new administration will deal with, one that came up again and again was race.

Sitting on a bench across the street from the Newseum, away from the crowds, Steve Safoschnik, 31, ate a gyro and talked about bias and white men.

"Straight white men feel like we have to apologize for everything for, you know, just being us," Safoschnik said. "It's like all the ills in the world are blamed on us, you know?

"We're just regular guys. We just want to go to work, meet a girl, and go home and live like everyone else."

Being a Trump supporter, Safoschnik said, means people will assume some bad things about you, especially when it comes to race. But while that hasn't cost him any friends, it has cost him.

"I mostly date, like, Spanish women, right, but then a lot of them I know, they know I'm a Trump supporter. ... It's something I have to get around, definitely," he said with a laugh.

"I think at the end of the day I'm actually not a bad ambassador, because they realize I'm not a racist, I'm not a scumbag, you know? I'm not like a white supremacist or something. I'm just regular and I want what's best for America, that's all."

But the way the U.S. media portrays race makes fixing the country's racial problems beyond the control of any one person — including Trump, Safoschnik said.

"I don't think it could get any worse," he said. "I think [race relations will] be okay honestly. If they get worse, I don't think it'll necessarily be Trump, or only just Trump."

Crystal Scott, a white Army veteran from Texas living in Stafford, Virginia, also blamed the media for the country's race problems. She said she hopes race relations get better under Trump. But that can't happen, she said, unless the media also gets better.

"Just the other day I saw something on the news," she said. "And I'm gonna tell the story wrong, but a black preacher saved a kid from being run over by a truck. Why is it a black preacher? Why isn't it a preacher? He is an American. In America. Why aren't we praising a preacher for saving this child? Why does he have to be black? So I think stuff like that is what ignites the racism. It ignites us to pull apart from one another."

Raymond Dunyo added an outsider's perspective. He was born in Ghana, is a Swiss citizen, and came to D.C. from New York for a two-day visit sporting a "Make America Great Again" beanie. Dunyo didn't seem hugely optimistic about Trump's ability to resolve the country's racial issues, but he said that was beside the point.

"We all know the issue between the blacks and whites here," he said. "No government is going to solve that issue. When Obama came, it was even worse ... so the race issue shouldn't be the main point of selecting [a] government."

By 10 a.m., large groups had congregated on and around the National Mall. The crowd was overwhelmingly white, most dressed in practical clothes and prepared for rain. Many wore Trump paraphernalia. There were lots of young people, and lots of women. And for hours, conversation after conversation turned to race, nationality, and immigration.

At one corner, a young man spoke about his mother coming to the United States from Brazil, and how his being half-Brazilian helped him to understand both sides of the immigrant experience — something that would be important in Trump's America.

Nearby, a woman spoke Spanish on the phone, complaining about the cold (frío, frío, frío, friísimo!) She shared a bench with a group of young people, one of whom sported a hybrid American-flag/"F**k Isis" sweatshirt. At one point, the young woman in the sweatshirt starting talking about her father, who had come to the U.S. from Cuba on a boat.

"The right way," she said. Unlike other immigrants who "don't get a visa."

Behind them, a youngish brown kid got into a heated discussion with a middle-aged white man about something Trump said during his campaign clash with Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel. Trump challenged Curiel's objectivity because Curiel, the child of Mexican immigrants, had ruled against Trump in a civil case.

"What if I said you couldn't do your job because you're white?" the brown kid asked. "That's the definition of racism."

"Trump wasn't saying he couldn't be a judge," the white guy countered. "He was just saying he couldn't judge that particular case. That's not racist."

People in the crowd seemed to be doing just what Stanola Stanley, a 21-year-old Indian-American, had suggested earlier in the day — hashing things out for themselves. Solving America's race problems, she said, isn't really up to the new president anyway.

"The media can portray [race relations] in a negative way or positive way," she said. "But I feel like if the people really want to change, they would take steps towards that. ...

"If the country as a whole, if they really want to take that step forward, in gender equality or race equality, then to me it doesn't matter who is in charge. You will take that step as a nation to move forward. ...You have to be the change for yourself, and that's what matters in the end."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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