Post-Racial America: Is the idea a dangerous fantasy?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Post-Racial America
Ferguson Missouri Night 1

Police in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Many photos from Ferguson, including the two images with today’s column, have been uploaded for public use via Wikimedia Commons by “LoavesOfBread.”

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—I hope you will join me in thanking our guest columnists, this summer. I’m back, this week, to explore the values surrounding the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri. Here is my first column …

Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald S. Johnson was sent to Ferguson, Missouri, by the state's governor.

Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ronald S. Johnson was sent to Ferguson, Missouri, by the state’s governor.

“There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America,” uttered Barack Obama in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Obama was then a senatorial candidate from Illinois, soon to be Senator, and now twice-elected President.

Was his image of a post-racial America just fantasy?

This is a haunting question, given the tragic and still-unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white policeman. The shooting triggered peaceful protests, violence, a militarized police presence, gubernatorial intervention, national outrage, rallies, and much more.

The answer to the question is complex and variable. The meteoric ascendency and election of Obama to the Oval Office shows that, in some ways, we are a post-racial society. But the Ferguson events show that, for many, we are not.

What is the overall state of race relations? Polls taken earlier this summer give us a view. Consider this question from a CNN/ORC Poll.

What’s your answer to this question? “In general, do you think race relations in the United States are very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad?”

Race relations are in the eyes of the beholder. Answers to this poll question show just how variable and complex things are. White and Black Americans agree when it comes to assessments of “very good” or “fairly bad.” Eight percent of White Americans and 9% of Black Americans say “very good.” Twenty-three percent of White Americans and 25% of Black Americans say “fairly bad.”

The biggest differences occur with the “fairly good” and “very bad” responses. Almost six of ten White Americans (59%) say race relations are “fairly good,” with 45% of Black Americans saying the same. Only 9% of White Americans say race relations are “very bad,” with 21% of Black Americans saying the same.

Is the image of a post-racial America just a pipe-dream?

What do the events in Ferguson, Missouri, say to you?

In your view, what is the state of race relations in America today?

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