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Parlor Talk: What the American People Think About Racism

Posted by Kyle Baranko on August 12, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Racism is one of the most divisive issues in American culture and politics. Our nation was founded on the principle that all men were created equal despite exercising one of the most wicked and destructive practices in the history of mankind: plantation slavery. Capitalism has proved to be the best political structure for the American people because it emphasizes equality, freedom, and individual ingenuity. The Constitution gave all white citizens the opportunity to work hard and climb the socioeconomic ladder, but unfortunately, the prevailing racist ideology at the time corrupted the capitalist drive and turned Southern agriculture into a system of exploitation. Since the revolution, racial progress has been made in leaps and bounds with climatic events such as the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement. Now the United States is entering the last, definitive stage of this process. But unfortunately, the divisiveness currently gripping the American people is in danger of derailing the progress we have made since the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Living with the fact that our ancestors enslaved each other is an uncomfortable reality that we all must accept, but some people are too quick to dismiss the issue as a solved problem. And on the other hand, those who refuse to concede that there has been any progress since desegregation are also incorrect but just sing the song of the opposite extreme. The answer is that our progress since the Civil Rights Act probably falls somewhere in between these two views, and three recent Gallup polls seem to reflect this position.

Overall, Americans currently “rate white-black relations much more negatively today than they have at any point in the last 15 years.” Since 2013, there has been a sharp drop in the number of citizens who have optimistic views of black-white relations. Much of this shift can be attributed to the race riots in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities across the country. Just like how videography exposed police brutality and played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, social media is now capturing an enormous audience and turning its attention to the violence. But, as I have written before, social media’s powerful influence can also have a negative effect. Twitter and Facebook did a great job of getting our attention, but it has not taken advantage of the situation. In general, the media is so politicized that it actually has helped tear this nation apart rather than move it forward. The fact that so many people began debating racism in America pushed the issue back into the spotlight labeled as major problem, undermining the progress we have made in the last fifty years; some argue that the media’s portrayal of the events inflated the sense of injustice. Speakers on both sides exaggerated and made radical arguments in order to champion their cause, and it further diluted the truth. Conservative media hosts basically went to war with the liberal college campus protesters, and both sides responded by moving farther apart. The sharp drop could easily be a result of extremely elastic public opinion in the digital age.

But that is not to say that there aren’t still fundamental problems. The studies show that a majority of blacks still feel that they are often treated unfairly. However, this number has remained constant despite the recent protests. Perhaps black Americans were more knowledgeable about the problems, while many whites were suddenly awoken by the media and responded by overcompensating in polls. Overall, the positivity of racial progress has been dimmed but not put out. Many calls for new legislation, particularly with police brutality, have been made but no actual proposals have yet to take shape. During this period of heightened awareness, it is essential that lawmakers capitalize and implement the necessary changes.

Americans have lived with one whole century of slavery. They lived with another of legal segregation. The majority of United States history saw some form of racial discrimination. From an anthropological perspective, this ugly aspect of our culture will take about the same amount of time to destroy. It will take years to completely level the playing field after blacks have endured centuries of socioeconomic disadvantages. The first step is to fix our mentality in the conscious and unconscious state; we must get rid of the traditional racists. Then, we need to make sure that we maintain a level of economic elasticity that whites have enjoyed for centuries in order to give blacks an equal shot. The biggest problem now is eliminating poverty through economic policy and education. The riots started in impoverished areas with predominantly uneducated people. The sooner we enlighten everyone by providing good schooling, the sooner these problems will go away. And this is not just helping blacks get access; 83% of all police departments require a high school diploma, but only 8% require a four-year degree. On a related note, college educated policemen use force 56% of the time, whereas those with only a high school education use force 68% of the time. The problems in Ferguson and Baltimore are a reflection of racism, but the media should have done a better job emphasizing the economic and educational problems as well.

Categories: Culture: Anthropology

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