In the midst of a civil upheaval that threatened to unravel our society, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of love and the need to overcome oppression without resorting to violence. He spoke of "a dream that one day this nation will rise up and hold . . .self-evident, that all men are created equal."
So how stands this country now, 41 years after Dr. King gave his life for his dream? The election of the first American Black President, Barack Obama, is an unmistakable sign that the country has taken an astonishing step away from its history of slavery and institutionalized racism. Equally instructive, however, is the work that remains to be done.
In the afterglow of Barack Obama’s election, an overwhelming majority of the country believed that race relations would dramatically improve.
According to a Gallup poll, the day after Barack Obama won the presidency, 67 percent of Americans felt that racism would eventually be eradicated—that’s ten percentage points higher than at any other point in the four decades that Gallup has been polling. Americans were more optimistic about solving race following Obama’s election that after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Indeed, most Americans surveyed said that Obama’s election represented the most important milestone for blacks in the last hundred years. Pundits wasted no time proclaiming that America had finally achieved a post-racial society.
The mood of the country was downright euphoric.
A little more than one year later, Americans opinion on race relations has changed. According to a new Gallup poll, the number of people who say racial problems will be worked out has dropped back to its pre-Obama level. Notably, the number of people who say race will always be a problem has risen from 30 percent to 40 percent; and one in five persons surveyed actually felt hat the race relations had gotten worse.
Perhaps most striking is that number of Americans reporting optimism regarding race relations—56%--was approximately the same as in 1963.
Bottom line: Most Americans feel the same about race relations in this country now, as they did before Obama was elected.
So what happened to all of that hope and optimism that greeted Obama’s election—and what does it say about the country’s evolving dialogue on race? It seems that a majority of American Blacks do not feel that the election of Obama has brought substantive change to their daily lives.