The New York Times reported in a poll that almost 70% of the American public perceive race relations in America to be poor, even bad. How do you perceive racial tensions, and how do you believe social media, and the established media’s ability to disseminate information rapidly, affect both American’s perceptions of racial tension and actual racial tension in the United States in light of Islamophobia, especially since the Orlando night club attack, BLM protests and the high profile killing of black men, the mass killing of police officers in Dallas, TX, #AllLivesMatter, and President Obama’s remark that “we are not as divided as we seem.”
We’ve all seen the news. We’ve all read the posts and watched the videos and heard about countless signs of division that seem to be sweeping the nation, dominating network news and social media. Yet President Obama reminds us, “We are not as divided as we seem.”(1) He tells us this when black people, young and old, are gunned down by police officers, and vice versa. He tells us this when both major presidential candidates are looked upon unfavorably by more than half of the nation.(2) When looking at this time in American history, one may feel the country is about to be torn apart by its divisions, marking the end of a nation that was once so strong and free of any divisive nature in its politics or culture!
The sky is not falling. There were other times in America’s 240-year history that large groups of people with vastly different demographic characteristics disagreed with each other, even to the point of violence, most notably around the years of 1861 to 1865. It may appear, when viewing Twitter feeds and network news, that another civil war is at hand, but things could be and have been a lot worse. That’s not to say, however, that life is peachy for everyone in this great nation.
Today, 61% of black Americans believe race relations are generally bad. 64% of black Americans also feel they are treated unfairly in the workplace, with 84% agreeing that blacks are treated unfairly by the police. These numbers are in stark contrast to the 22% of whites who feel blacks are treated unfairly in the workplace and 50% when dealing with the police.(3)
Black and white Americans also appear to have different ideas about the appropriate direction American politics should take. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump garners almost all of his support from white Americans.(4) Despite Trump claiming that he “will do more for the African-American people than Barack Obama has ever done,”(5) some polls showed his support among black voters fell as low as 1% nationally(6) in August, and to 0% of black voters in the electorally important swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.(7) Single-digit support for Republican candidates from black voters is not uncommon, but Trump is polling below Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein(8) among black voters, which can only be described as embarrassing for Trump and the Republican Party as a whole.
All of these numbers,percentages, and polls only provide numerical proof of what has been and remains a major issue in American politics: the fact that whites and blacks, on average, have very different experiences in this country, and think differently because of that. his is not new. A nation built on the backs of African slaves is bound to experience racial tension throughout its existence. For much of our history, many people have ignored this tension. Today, though, the issue of racial inequality is front-and-center.
The visibility of the issue of race has increased recently due to high-profile police shootings and subsequent protests and riots. Riots generally have a bad connotation given their destructive nature, but riots have long played a significant role in the centuries-long fight for racial equality in America. For example, the 1960s were a turbulent time, with race riots in New York in 1964, Los Angeles in 1965, and 125 cities nationwide in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Despite countless instances of civil unrest, the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s is now considered by many to be one of the most important– and greatest– things to happen to America. Now, I am not condoning the damage and injuries caused by riots, but riots and other, more peaceful acts of rebellion can intensify discussions around the need for social change, leading to reasonable discourse on ideas for approaching the future. Thomas Jefferson himself believed that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” I agree.
America needs periods of seemingly catastrophic divisions to move the country forward. That’s why it’s important to have some perspective on current situations, to point out that change doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye and that it certainly doesn’t happen with full support from every American citizen. I do not mean to belittle the problems Americans face in 2016, but I do want to point out that the nation has survived more fractious times and, though they tested the nation’s unity, they resulted in a better nation down the road.
(Copyright 2016 Harry Moore)