At the time Virginia's future political leaders put on blackface in college for fun, Dan Aykroyd wore it too — in the hit 1983 comedy "Trading Places."

Such racial insensitivities ran rampant in popular culture during the 1980s. That was also the decade that Chicago elected its first black mayor, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album broke sales records, college students protested against South African apartheid and the stereotype-smashing sitcom "The Cosby Show" debuted.

But it would be another decade before multiculturalism started to change America's racial sensibilities.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. He says many shifts didn't occur until the 1990s, when black and Latino intellectuals and journalists achieved more prominent positions.

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