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.