The State of Race Relations in the United States, 2013

Any reasonable consideration of the state of race relations in the United States should take stock of how far we’ve come and how much farther we need to go.

When I was a kid and young adult, legal segregation was the norm in many places. White and blacks or “Coloreds” as they were called had separate restrooms, drinking fountains, and building entrances. Accommodations were such that traveling was impossible or, at the least, very difficult for blacks. A variety of pretexts denied their right to vote and there were very few black elected officeholders, even in areas in which overwhelming majorities of the native born people of voting age were black. There were very few if any black policemen or firefighters or mayors of large cities. Very nearly the only black faces you saw on television were those of actresses playing maids. None of those things is true now. We’ve come a long way.

As far as we’ve come there’s still quite a bit farther to go. The overall homicide rate among blacks is six times what it is among whites. That’s almost entirely due to the homicide rate among urban blacks—the homicide among rural blacks is roughly the same as among whites. The unemployment rate among young blacks is a staggering 21%, compared to an overall youth unemployment rate of 12%. Median income for white households is around $50,000. Median income for black households is around $32,000. Real median household income has been declining for blacks for more than a decade. 30% of whites are college graduates; only 20% of blacks are college graduates. The on time high school graduation rate for whites is 78%; the rate for blacks is 57%.

I wouldn’t claim that all of these problems are due to racism. That there is a racial component can hardly be denied.

Some might point to the Secretary of State under George W. Bush (the son of Jamaican immigrants) or, on the occasion of his second inauguration to the presidency, the current president (the son of a Kenyan, raised by whites) as an indication that race no longer plays a factor in American life. Perhaps it doesn’t. But differences in income don’t account for all of these differences. Maybe it’s the racism of a few, elderly white bigots. Maybe it’s paternalism. Maybe it’s culture. Maybe it’s all of the above or something else but there’s certainly something. There are millions of Afro-Americans (as the sociologist Charles Moskas referred to black Americans who were descended from the American slaves freed in 1865) who are still in severely reduced circumstances and the state of race relations in the United States won’t be good until that’s remediated to the degree that it reasonably can be.

Many of the solutions of the 1960s have run their course and been found wanting. Early intervention in the form of the Head Start program is now known to accomplish results that fade quickly. Quotas and set-asides based on race in education or jobs have given a leg up to people who didn’t actually need it: children of recent African or Caribbean immigrants, the children of the black aristocracy. The on time high school graduation rate from inner city schools has been stalled at around 50% for decades.

It’s too early to declare victory but doubling down on the failed solutions of the past is no solution, either. We need new approaches and new ideas, a tall order given the powerful forces dedicated to maintaining the status quo, whether racial disparity or failed approaches to addressing the problem.

40 comments… add one
  • Beats me.

    I was half-reared by The Staples.

  • I was living in a black community (brought about by white flight after desegregation orders in Dallas) and attending a nearly all black elementary school when MLK was shot in April ’68.

    I was studying spelling bee words with Ms. Waterhouse (black teacher) when it was announced over the loudspeaker. The looks.

    My parents sold the house that summer, and moved to a white neighborhood on the west edge of Oak Cliff.

    Integration caught up again in Jr. High.

  • My next good black friend was a woman in physics class at Skyline High School. The only girls.

  • Not women. We were 16-17, she might have been 18. We both did well.

    Her father was a military man. She wanted to go into the merchant marine. I just wanted to get out of high school.

  • I have no idea what the answers are now. As I say, I came from a different time and place.

  • The new white neighbors across the street have a young boy (8) who plays with a black boy, and he is invited to their house. That’s a first for this block, and a welcome development as I see it.

  • How to make anybody give a damn about education as anything other than a stepping stone might be the next approach to take.

    The older I get, the less I know.

  • What y’all got to say?

  • Karen Hayes was a pretty black girl with a much better voice who was pretty ticked off when I was chosen by Ms. Woods to be Cinderella in the operetta in third grade in 1966:

    My mother made all the costumes. Ms. Woods had a point to make.

    Karen told me the next year that Ms. Woods had explained it to her.

  • So how we all so screwed up?

  • You tell me.

  • The prince couldn’t dance worth a damn.

  • Speak up.

  • Cooperation between races has been an issue for me since I was 7.

  • My math teacher’s son knew how to pronounce “know” before I did.

    He was Anthony Williams, too.

  • The only experience with black people I hear from anyone else is Icepick. And he’s in Florida.

    Which is barely part of the USA.

  • Sorry, Mr. Dave. I’m trying to get better.

  • I’m pretty fuckin’ tired of the whole business.

  • You ain’t women and I know your names.

  • What do we do now?

  • Y’all don’t have anything to say?

    You have been that isolated from the black community that you have nothing good to say?

  • There it is. The internet is dominated by stupid men.

  • Stupid white men.

  • And that’s not true. It’s dominated by teenage girls who are thinking about the next color to paint their toenails.

  • Sorry, I’ll go home now. Lonely barflies can be so tiresome.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I passed for black once, though I don’t look it.

    Once during a job interview at school, I asked the interviewers what brought them east, and they said they were looking for an African-american with my background. You’re looking for a black? Yes. At that point, I relaxed and gave one of the most relaxing job interviews ever, because it obviously didn’t matter. But then the strangest thing happened; I was called back and called back again. My stock was apparently rising and highly favored by one faction, and they kept asking if I had any questions or if I had anything else to share. It seemed to me at the time that I might only have said that my ancestors included slave-owners and while we don’t like to talk about it with outsiders, its said we have a drop or two of negro blood running in our veins. The flames of perdition would have licked my soul for eternity, but the job probably wouldn’t have been worth it anyway.

  • I’m waiting for 23andme. According to my brother’s results, from National Geographic, I’m coming through Persia, which might make me Jewish.

  • According to my brother’s results, from National Geographic, I’m coming through Persia, which might make me Jewish.

    Check the timeline. My maternal haplotype is J1c3. The J1 haplogroup arose roughly 38,000 years ago. It was spread throughout Europe by the original Middle Eastern farmers who brought agriculture and their genes along with them about 7,000 years ago. The J1c3 haplotype is basically an indicator that you’re of Irish descent.

  • Does Irish mean anything when you go back that far?

  • Here’s a graphical timeline that includes the J (mtDNA) haplogroup. It doesn’t include the J1c3 haplotype, which is as old as 7,000 years or possibly as recent as 3,000 years and occurs mostly in the British Isles. Yes, Ireland had a population at that time.

  • Suits me. I’m pretty pagan.

  • How I came to love this decent old man is not a puzzle to me. Might be to you.

  • “Social cohesion” is bullshit.

    “How is your mama?” makes inroads.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Janis Gore

    I am not unfamiliar with black folks – mostly working class & poor, but some middle class. It took me a long time to realize I am far more comfortable around black folks than most white people. Many times, I am admonished by white folks for the way I talk to black folks. I say the same crazy shit I would say to any white person.

    People are people. Nobody wants to be disrespected. We all have feelings.

  • I appreciate you gentlemen coming in. It’s been a hard week. The 13th was to be our 19th wedding anniversary, and the 19th marked the 6 months since death.

    I don’t expect times ahead to be quite this hard. Thank you.

  • I’m not discounting that I could be Jewish and Irish.

  • And black.

    This should be pretty interesting.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Janis Gore

    You have my sincere condolences. I believe that if a person’s life was worthwhile, their memory is also worthwhile. I do not believe in getting over the death of somebody close. We should aspire to the attain the goodness of our loved ones, or at least, avoid the badness. Anything shameful when they were alive should be doubly shameful after their death, but shame and honor are no longer valued.

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