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Race Relations at Forefront of National Debate

As we began to navigate a new year, it is important to remember the events of the previous one. As evidence of this is the fact that, on December 19, 2014, released its most recent findings revealing that many Americans see race relations as a major issue facing the nation.

In an article, Justin McCarthy cited a number of statistics from the study. The same poll indicated that 13% of those interviewed believed that race relations are the most important issue facing the nation. This was the highest figure that Gallup had recorded since 1992 when the nation was struggling to come to terms with the dramatic events resulting from the Rodney King verdict.

From 1992 to 2014, the percentage of Americans who felt that race relations/racism is America’s most pressing problem hovered between 1% and 5%. Such a notable increase to 13% is no doubt related to the dramatic events and incidents in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; Cleveland; Philadelphia; and other cities. It is important to note that Gallup also discovered that a growing percentage of non-Whites have lost considerable confidence in the ability of police officers to protect them.

The same lack of trust was similar in regards to a perceived deficiency in ethical standards among police by minority communities.

The fact is that race has always been a major issue in America. For many Blacks and other non-Whites, it has been the perennial issue. When Black intellectual extraordinaire and early 20th century renaissance man WEB DuBois stated that “the problem of the 20th Century would be the problem of the color line,” he was right on target. In fact, the problem has continued into the 21st century.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the topic frequently was at the center of national debate. This was largely due to the modern civil rights movement that dominated public policy and largely saturated the popular culture. In 1963, 52% of Americans stated that race was the most pivotal problem facing America. Over the past half century, the topic has fluctuated in how important the public views its importance.

Truth be told, with a relentless slew of tragedies and setbacks affecting Black Americans (in particular Black men), 2014 is not likely to be a year that many Black men (or people of color in general) will look back on with undiluted pleasure. The wealth gap between the races (already significant) is growing wider. College is all but a distant wish for too many Black youth (and low income youths of all races) as they are increasingly being priced out of higher education. The brutal deaths of Black men (and a few women) at the hands of law enforcement have sent shock waves throughout much of the Black community and some other communities as well. It was indeed, a very challenging year.

That being said, no reasonable person can argue that race relations are the same as they were 50 years ago. They have significantly improved since the mid-1960s when many Black people (especially in the South) were still largely living under a racial apartheid system rife with second class status. This August will mark the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the Voting Rights Act signed into law by Congress on August 6, 1965. Despite what some may think, that nation has indeed come a considerable distance from that time.

The current atmosphere still is somewhat volatile, but the mass demonstrations and protests on multiple college campuses by undergraduate and graduate students, law students, medical students, college presidents, celebrities and other influential citizens across racial and economic lines are inspirational as well as hopeful. It sends a powerful and unyielding message that this is an issue that is going to be dealt with and the people will not be moved. This fact, in and of itself, is inspiring. Things can only improve from here.

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