More than a century ago in 1900, Black intellectual extraordinaire W.E.B. Du Bois stated the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. He was right on target.
This prophetic message remains relevant today in the 21st century. If the past several years have taught us anything, it is as a country we’re in a perpetual state of crisis when it comes to the racial situation plaguing our nation.
A Pew Research Center poll conducted in August this year asked more than 5,000 adults their views on the state of race relations in America. White adults were the most likely to say the country has made a great deal or a fair amount of progress in ensuring racial equality (58%). In turn, Black adults were the least likely to say there’s been a lot of progress (30%).
About a third of Black Americans (32%) say the country hasn’t made much progress or any progress at all on racial equality in the last 60 years. This is larger than the shares of Hispanic (19%), white (11%), and Asian (11%) Americans who say the same.
The recently conducted poll provides specific details on the vast divide of opinion between different races on topics including politics, economics, and law enforcement. Such findings demonstrate that more than a decade after the election of the nation’s first Black president, race is still the unruly, rambunctious elephant running wildly through the room.
As a Black college professor, when communicating with other educated Black professionals (and some non-Black), friends, and acquaintances, I can detect the unmistakable level of anger, stress, fear, and resentment in regard to the current volatile racial situation. Such emotions are indeed well founded. The temperature is hot, and the climate has become unpredictable.
For many of us, our viewpoints on race have largely been formed by our personal experiences. In a nation that has been less than equitable to people of color, especially Black Americans, it is justifiable that many Black Americans are more inclined to believe race is an intractable factor in our society and has an unshakeable grip on all people.
Many of us have stories of family members or friends who have been the recipients of its often-poisonous venom. On the other hand, many whites, particularly affluent white men, are in positions where the specter of racial prejudice has little, if any, effect on their lives. Indeed, many of them are largely immune to the disease that is institutional and structural racism.
A number of whites are in denial about racism. A greater percentage are even more dismissive about the potential negative economic, psychological, and emotional impact that it can have. Over the past few years, several conservative media outlets, Fox News and Newsmax in particular, have shamefully and purposely misrepresented and manipulated racial incidents in an effort to appease their viewers.
Race relations have gotten worse than they were a decade ago. This is particularly the case since the Trump years. However, as a historian, I can vouch for the fact that they are somewhat better than they were in the mid to late 1960’s.
Throughout history, Americans have frequently reacted brashly to dramatic changes, such as reconstruction, suffrage, the modern civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and so on. The reality is as the great 19th century author and orator Frederick Douglass stated, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
It is imperative those of us who are of good will remain steadfast in our determination to do all in our power to prevent the rights that our forebears of yesteryear fought so valiantly for from being dismantled and extinguished by those who desire a return to a more, dark, oppressive, dystopian era.
We must get busy quickly. Time is running out, and too much is at stake.