As I have argued before, one of the main barriers to dealing realistically with matters of race and the ongoing fall-out of the history of race relations in this country, is an almost complete denial of race as a real issue worth dealing with. What is crazy, and what I did not realize was that this is not at all a new phenomena. We like to think that race is not an issue anymore because we have made so much progress. Anyone claiming that race is an obstacle for them must be trying to “play the race card” and “make themselves the victim”. However, it turns out that even back when we would all agree that the state of affairs for African Americans was horrid, unequal and morally indefensible, white Americans thought pretty much exactly the same thing!
I came across some statistics today which I think we all need to remember the next time we are tempted to write off race as an actual issue today:
In 1963, a Gallup poll found that 2/3rds of Americans thought that African Americans were treated the same as whites in their communities.
In 1962, 85% of whites said that African American children were given as good an education as their white counter parts in their communities.
In 1963, 75% of whites told Newsweek Magazine that African Americans were moving “too fast” in their quest for equal rights.
In 1969, a Gallup/Newsweek poll found that 44% of whites thought that an African American would have an easier time finding a good, well paying job than they would in the market place. Only 22% thought African Americans would be at a disadvantage.
That same poll found that 42% of whites thought that African Americans had better access to a quality education than white people did. Only 17% thought that white had better access to a quality education.
HT: Tim Wise
Seriously people. It was the 60’s. There is no way that in retrospect any sane person could agree with white perceptions about the condition of African Americans at that time. If an individual person was that out-of-touch with reality, we would have put them on medication.
Now, my point isn’t to say that nothing has changed and our perceptions about the condition of African Americans is as out-of-wack today as it was then. However, as humans we have enormous powers of self-delusion. People in the 60s were obviously completely incapable of dealing realistically with race. However, what makes us so certain that we are much more realistic? There have been scores and scores of scientific empirical studies which have found that race is still a substantial barrier in everything from employment to housing to education to financial services. Yet many people, particularly conservatives are absolutely convinced that the only race problem we have is pandering from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
The fact of the matter is that even if we were able to wave a magic wand and make all of the social ills of low marriage rates, out-of-wedlock birth, criminal behavior and school drop-out disappear, African Americans would still face substantial barriers in every area of life needed to attain the American Dream. This is not to say that these are absolutely insurmountable barriers. However, they are an unfair disadvantage which needs to be addressed right along with the real social problems which have become widespread in the African American community.
So next time you are tempted to write of some complaint of unequal treatment as “race-mongering” or “playing the victim”, remember all those delusional white people from the 60s. It’s better for all of us if we take the time to actually listen, consider the perspective of another and acknowledge the possibility that race may in fact, be a real issue for people to deal with.
Here are some of the other things I have written on race:
The American Race and Race – If you read nothing else on race ever in your life, please just read this post.