President Obama had occupied the Oval Office for nearly a full term when government engineers came to him with a request: that he move out for a few months while they completed an overdue renovation of the West Wing.
Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s oldest family friend and a senior advisor, objected.
“Nobody else had to do that,” she said. Other White House staffers were concerned that displacing Obama, though he had no problem with it, could be read as a sign of disrespect for the nation’s first black president.
The moment was a small glimpse into how Obama and his image-makers navigated the sensitive question of race during their eight years in the White...