Nia-Malika Henderson gets something that very few reporters caught during election season:

On his pre-inaugural visit to Ben's Chili Bowl, a landmark for Washington's African-American community, President Barack Obama was asked by a cashier if he wanted his change back.

"Nah, we straight," Obama replied.

The phrase was so subtle some listeners missed it. The reporter on pool duty quoted Obama as saying, "No, we're straight."

But many other listeners did not miss it. A video of the exchange became an Internet hit, and there was a clear moment of recognition among many blacks, who got a kick out of their Harvard-educated president sounding, as one commenter wrote on a hip-hop site, "mad cool." 

On matters of racial identity, many observers in the African-American community say he benefits from what's known as "dog-whistle politics." His language, mannerisms and symbols resonate deeply with his black supporters, even as the references largely sail over the heads of white audiences.

I remember watching Tim Russert try to tie Obama to Farrakhan, and thinking, "Don't they know this dude has been paraphrasing Malcolm X? Why aren't they asking him about that?" Not that I'm in favor of any of that, but I think this is what fueled so much of the "he's not really black talk"--most white reporters don't really know what black is. And so while they were waiting for Obama call for reparations or another Back To Africa movement, the missed the subtle things.

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