In the 55 years since Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a city bus, sparking the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott, America has made remarkable progress in the area of civil rights. Segregation has been outlawed, doors have been opened for minorities to integrate into the mainstream of affluent American society, and whites have been freed from the guilt that comes from racial oppression. Who could have imagined in 1955 that the United States would one day have an African American president?
The victory of Barack Obama demonstrated that racial prejudice, as well as distrust and division among the races, have diminished considerably in the last half century. His election was a redemptive moment for the nation, and sent a great message to young African Americans that they can attain the highest offices in the nation.
And yet, two years later, his presidency seems more transitional and less transformational. For many blacks, the American Dream remains far too elusive. Thanks to the Bush years and the Great Recession, many African Americans are worse off economically than were their parents. The income gap between whites and blacks has GROWN in the last 30 years. Black unemployment is at Depression levels in some areas -- 20% or even 25%. (See the special report, "Backsliding: Inside the African American Unemployment Crisis," in Huffington Post.)
Racial disparities endure in education, as evidenced by the achievement gap, as well as wide differences in school suspensions based on race, and resegregation. The wage gap between blacks and whites remains high, and blacks are still far more likely to be treated harshly by the criminal justice system. Indeed, a class divide has developed in the black community: middle class African Americans say they share values more in common with middle-class whites than they do with the underclass of poor blacks and whites.
African Americans still represent Obama’s strongest base of support. Just as John F. Kennedy broke a social barrier in becoming the first Catholic president, Obama broke a social barrier in becoming the first African American president. Just as anti-Catholic bigotry dissolved into insignificance after the 1960 election, it seems likely that bigotry against African Americans will fade with the generations that lived in and perpetuated racial segregation. But much work is left to be done — especially in the economic realm — in making Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality a reality. The weapons of protest have changed. Instead of boycotts against city buses, modern weapons include online advocacy like that found at www.hkactivists.com.
- 50 Examples of White Privilege (Post from 2007 -- most popular post on this blog)
- In Selma, Alabama 1965 (my uncle) Mac Secrest Helped Reduce Civil Rights Conflict...Often With Humor
- Index of my civil rights blog
- www.revwilliambarber.com, blog of the president of the NC NAACP; "HKONJ.com," the coalition of organizations in NC working for progressive change; NAACPNC.org.