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Race Relations at a Rocky Impasse

The classic old saying “when it rains it pours” rings true when it comes to the current state of race relations in America. Indeed, it appears that we are in a perpetual state of crisis when it comes to the racial situation confronting our nation.

A recent CBS News poll of 1,027 adults taken last week indicated that a majority of people believe that race relations are at their worst in more than two decades. The report showed that 61 percent of Americans across all race and ethnic groups characterized race relations as “bad.” The percentage is the highest since 1992 when the Los Angeles riots forced the nation to do some degree of soul searching.

What was most striking about the findings was the fact that, for the first time in more than two decades, a majority of Whites believe that race relations are poor. In fact, just earlier this year, the majority of Whites polled harbored divergent views on the state of race relations. A similar poll conducted by the Pew Research Center of Whites and Blacks earlier this month mirrored the CBS poll. It should come as little surprise that a disproportionate number of Black Americans have always been more inclined to hold more skeptical and cautionary views on racial progress. History has given us good reason to embrace such a mindset.

Recently, at one of the local coffeehouses where I frequently hang out, several of us were discussing the issue of race and many of the racial incidents that have been dominating the news lately. I know that, in one of my recent columns, I said that I had planned to take a moratorium from discussing the issue of racism with Whites. Nonetheless, my passion for the subject overwhelmed my previous stance and my initial intentions were suspended. It was a diverse crowd of people in regards to race, gender and age. Most of us were Generation Xers. A few were millennials. Two of the participants were baby boomers. It was lively and candid discussion.

It quickly became evident that people’s opinions were largely reflected based upon their personal life experiences. The older White members of the debate (those over 60), were more inclined to view racism as something that was much worse prior to the 1960s than it is now. Moreover, they saw it as being a minimal or almost non-existent issue. Truth be told, such an opinion is somewhat true, in that race relations are indeed healthier than they were in the pre-1960s. Although given the fact that this was the decade when the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed by Congress, this should hardly come as a surprise. What these two monumental pieces of legislation did was allow Black and other non-White Americans to gain the status of immigrants.

Some of us middle-aged folk (those of us in our mid-40s to late 50s) harbored a more complicated view on the state of race relations. While the majority of us were in concurrence with the belief that progress had indeed occurred, we still were unwilling to concede that racism and racial discrimination was the two-headed evil dragon that had been permanently slayed and was a vestige of America’s past. Any racially astute person would realize that there is too much current evidence to indicate otherwise.

While direct and candid, unlike many discussions dealing with race, the discussion was civil. We managed to talk to one another as opposed to at each other. No one pointed fingers, raised their voices, accused one another of being “racists,” “reverse racists” (there is not such thing, as far as I know), overemotional, paranoid or other labels that are all too often hurled when people from diverse backgrounds get together to discuss the tinderbox of all topics: race. This fact in and of itself was a minor accomplishment.

The recent deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Tanisha McBride and many others at the hands of law enforcement. The ongoing dramatic saga that are confronting cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson. The growing wealth and income gaps that transcend across racial lines but disproportionately affect Black and brown Americans. Lower life expectancy that is more likely to impact poor people (especially poor Black men). Systematic and structural discrimination all too often directed toward Black and brown Americans. All of the aforementioned factors indicate that racism is a malignant form of cancer that has managed to spread its less than hopeful prognosis throughout many avenues of our nation. It has infiltrated much of the landscape.

Hard truths and current grim realities aside, the fact is that America has been a nation that has had reoccurring bouts with blatant racism. Some of these incidents have been brutal, blatant and bloody. Despite such dramatic consternation, the nation has managed to emerge from the crisis at hand, (at the moment, it is police violence against Black Americans) rethink its behavior and move forward. This is likely to be the case with our current predicament.

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