Monday, January 16, 2012

Celebrating the Progress We Have Made in Race Relations

Today we celebrate the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.   King, a leader of the civil rights movement for much of the 50's and 60's, was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
When it comes to race relations, people like to focus on the negative.  To hear some of those who decry racism, we have not made any progress in this country...American society is embedded with racism as bad as ever.  Whenever I hear such claims, I wonder if those people are simply ignorant of history or are hell-bent on using racism as a political issue.

Although I was just a six year old child when King died in 1968, I do though know something of civil rights history, When King's movement started in the 1950s, many places, including Indianapolis, had racially segregated schools.  Several states had miscegenation laws that criminalized marriages between people of different races.  (Virginia's law persisted until 1967 when it was struck down by the Supreme Court.) In some communities, blacks were required to use different restrooms, not allowed to eat at "white" restaurants, and had to ride at the back of buses.  On the political front, there were many counties in the south, where few if any blacks were registered despite the fact African-Americans made up a majority of the county.

Today, racial segregation, mandated by law, is a thing of the past.  Forty years after King's death, Americans elected Barack Obama, an African-American as President.  Even the one political group (falsely) labeled as racist, the tea party, last year enthusiastically embraced Herman Cain, an African-American business man, as a presidential candidate.  On a relationship level, people in Indianapolis do not even bat an eye at seeing a mixed race couple.  Indeed at one point, where I live, Pike Township, was deemed to have the highest percent of mixed marriages in the country.

My recounting of these successes is not meant to diminish the very real racism that still exists. But I think if King were alive today he would be quite proud of the racial progress we have made in this country.  Today, as we celebrate his life, we should also pat ourselves on the back. We've come a long way.


Nicolas Martin said...

Indeed, the progress has been great, but there are substantial setbacks. The government schools are life-wrecking pits into which too many minorities fall. The drug war continues to essentially be a race war. Laws are constructed so as to herd Black men into the clutches of the criminal justice system. Much good and much harm to consider today.


Yes, indeed much progress is made...especially in the workplace among educated people. There is social progress in that blacks and whites can be in relationships.

However, look at the prison system and the disproportioned number of blacks within it. And also, as Abdul pointed out this morning, how unfair our public education system is to blacks.