Monday, July 19, 2010

What are recent developments on the subject of race relations?

Racial tolerance continues to be a clear trend in American society. In fact, during the past six years there has been a significant positive change in the perceptions of both African Americans and whites regarding the present state of race relations. The changed attitudes have reached the point where an African American is now the President of the United States. Many of the issues that are presently important to racial minorities are issues faced by low income Americans generally, for example access to affordable health care and quality education. The 2008 Democratic platform is remarkably silent on the issue of race - a significant departure from past platforms. The document merely reiterates the Party's opposition to all forms of discrimination. The 2008 Republican platform states that the Party opposes racial, ethnic or religious discrimination of all kinds and specifically rejects the concept of "reverse discrimination" in government or industry.
Why does race remain an important public policy issue?
Despite over three decades of a concerted effort to rectify past racial injustices, race remains a crucial aspect of American society with policy implications throughout our governmental systems.
Racial issues historically have involved African Americans. Indeed issues associated with Black Americans remain the principal focus today. But a new wave of immigration during the past 30 years has overwhelmingly consisted of Hispanics and Asians. New issues associated with these groups have similarities and differences with issues facing African Americans.
Has there been substantial progress?
An understanding of racial issues facing America has to be viewed in a historical context. African Americans arrived shackled in chains as slaves and their social status was defined by their captivity. Consider the following language from the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous Dred Scott decision justifying the inferior status accorded to blacks:
"They had ... been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit."
The institution of slavery was ultimately abhorrent to white Americans in the North and a civil war was fought to end this practice. But institutional reforms were short-lived. The majority of the African American population remained in the South and their social and political ostracism in that region remained virtually unchanged. Blacks did migrate to other regions of the country in the 20th century. But a pattern of separate social status and cultural characteristics existed outside of the south as well. African Americans chiefly migrated to large cities and were relegated to racially exclusive neighborhoods. They remained segregated from many mainstream institutions, including the military, until after World War 2.
It was not until the civil rights movement of the 1960's that a profound national policy was developed to address racial injustice. What has emerged is a complex and uneven pattern of addressing racial discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, political participation, and social recognition.
The progress has been substantial. In 1968, 70% of African Americans were high school drop-outs. Now, the figure is closer to 20% and there has been over a 300% improvement in the rate of African Americans who attend college. There has been a reduction in poverty and an overall economic improvement, especially at the higher economic levels. African Americans have come closer to wage parity with whites. Due to the passage of voting rights legislation, the number of black elected officials has increased dramatically.
Although racial relations between whites and blacks remain strained, there is far more common ground than in previous decades. The races associate with far more frequency in the workplace. An increasingly greater percentage of persons of each race know someone of the other race who they regard as a fairly close personal friend. There are an increasing number of mixed marriages and the social disapproval of them has declined astoundingly. The mass media, particularly in its portrayal of athletes, has contributed mightily to improved cross-racial perceptions between blacks and whites. With far more frequency, African Americans who have become successful athletes are not stereotyped racially but are admired for their skill and human qualities. It is not surprising that African Americans cherish this aspect of their progress in American society. It also explains why the trial of O.J. Simpson, one such icon, was such a bitter experience for black Americans. A "racially conscious etiquette" which forbids racially derisive speech has emerged particularly among college educated Americans in most areas of the country.
What racial issues exist at present?
The legacy of racism in American society has proved way too ingrained to be cured in a single generation. Indeed, the progress toward integration has created its own new dynamic of racial tension. These tensions have been most visibly expressed in a series of race riots including those in Los Angeles (1965, 1992) and Detroit (1967). The current new wave of immigration in the United States involves people of color, primarily Hispanic. Under current population projections, non-Hispanic whites will constitute a bare majority of the population in 2050. Poverty is endemic to both Hispanics and blacks; many have zero net worth. The rate of home ownership has not appreciably increased. A disproportionate number receive welfare benefits. Undoubtedly in part due to welfare rules which have historically awarded benefits to single parents, the majority of modern black families are single parent families; the onset of welfare reform may have begun to reverse this trend. In the past two decades, a distinct trend of economic inequality has emerged, creating an "underclass" in which Americans of colored skin predominate. These groups have also been scapegoated by politicians attempting to appeal to white voters during periods of high unemployment. A substantial percentage of African Americans still believe that significant discrimination continues.
There is a present effort led by some African Americans to receive "slavery reparations" and a Presidential apology for damages associated with slavery. Advocates for such reparations note that similar payments have been made to other ethnic groups who have suffered historical racial injustices. They further observe that a promise made during the Civil War to provide newly freed slaves with "40 acres and a mule" was never kept. Legal claims have also been filed against insurance companies associated with the slave trade. Although the idea is supported by a narrow majority of African Americans, it does not have broad based public opinion support and legislative efforts to determine its feasibility have not been successful.
What about racism in other countries?
The targeting and mistreatment of ethnic minorities is a recurrent theme in modern world history. The "ethnic cleansing" practiced by Serbians in Bosnia is a recent example. The most profound cataclysmic event was the systemic massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany. In fact, many European countries have demonstrated very high levels of intolerance especially toward immigrants of color who have entered their workforces in recent decades. Throughout much of the 20th century, Australia practiced an exclusionary immigration policy which targeted all non-Caucasians. Racism was institutionalized by apartheid in South Africa until the 1990's. In contrast, the United States experience (which includes a high-casualty civil war prosecuted by whites) appears enlightened if imperfect.
How has "affirmative action" affected race relations?
Affirmative Action has been defined by the United States Commission on Civil Rights as "any measure, beyond simple termination of a discriminatory practice, adopted to correct or compensate for past or present discrimination or to prevent discrimination from recurring in the future." The phrase originated from an executive order issued by President Kennedy which was subsequently expanded by Presidents Johnson and Nixon.
Since the 70's, affirmative action has been frequently used for government contracts, university admission policies, and in hiring and promotional decisions in both the public and private sectors. Many employers have come to embrace affirmative action as a good business practice, enabling them to tap into larger and more diverse pools of talent and to facilitate a wider and diverse customer base.
Affirmative action has always been a controversial subject and has been attacked legally and legislatively. This debate centers on a number of questions: to what extent discrimination and bias persist, especially in a systemic way; to what degree affirmative action programs have been effective in providing otherwise unavailable opportunities in education, employment, and business; and to what extent affirmative action programs unfairly deprive opportunities to qualified white Americans. Many supporters of affirmative action policies agree that its practice should be considered temporary and should not be considered by affected groups as an entitlement.
Affirmative action has been particularly controversial regarding admissions policies at public universities. A recent study of admission practices at law schools in Virginia exemplify the nature of these preferences. The Supreme Court first evaluated this issue in 1978 when it invalidated quota systems used for racial admissions. In the wake of this decision, universities modified their admission standards to eliminate quotas but still consider race. In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld a standard which used race as one factor in determining admissions but rejected a system which assigned a numerical value for this purpose.
At least partially as a result of affirmative action, African Americans have achieved clear gains in the ranks of many occupations. But the overall improvement in the wage gap between blacks and whites has been stagnant since 1979. Not surprisingly, blacks and Hispanics are far more likely than whites to believe that discrimination continues and to support job-based preferences. In 1996, California voters narrowly passed an initiative to end affirmative action practices in higher education. The vote illustrated the wide division of opinion between the races on this issue. Similar legislative efforts have failed in Congress, though in 1998 a majority of Republicans supported ending affirmative action in university admission policies and in the award of contracts for highway projects.
Is the criminal justice system discriminatory?
The realities of the two groups lead to vastly different perceptions of this topic.
African Americans interact with the criminal justice system at a rate far greater than their percentage in the population. Although blacks account for less than 13% of the population, they constitute almost half of all those incarcerated. The Department of Justice has calculated that over a quarter of all adult black males are likely to be in prison at some point in their lives. They are far more likely to be victims of serious violent crime and homicide.
Studies have shown that police regularly use a person's race in detaining individuals who they suspect may be engaging in suspicious activity. This practice is widely known as "racial profiling". Critics of racial profiling often portray it as a practice under which police stop, question and search persons solely on the basis of their race. Those who justify the practice indicate that in actuality, race is typically not the only indicator of suspiciousness but it is a factor that will make a black person far more likely to be detained. They also state that it is a reaction to the reality that blacks are far more likely to be engaged in criminal activity. But racial profiling generates anger, humiliation, distrust and resentment that is deeply felt by large law-abiding sectors of black communities. A consequence is lessened respect for the guardians of law and order. Many middle class black men have come to understand such detentions as an onerous reminder of their second class citizenship.
There is also a concern that race is unfairly used in the jury selection process to exclude black jurors. Although the Supreme Court has held this practice to be unconstitutional, it still occurs in practice because "peremptory challenges" are impossible to regulate. Even the Supreme Court itself has poor black representation.
Another subject of African American concern is discrimination in punishment and sentencing. Blacks no longer outnumber whites on death row and the rate their death penalty sentencing is roughly equivalent to their high percentage of the prison population. But a discriminatory pattern exists regarding victims. Studies have indicated that homicides involving white victims are far more likely to be prosecuted as death penalty cases. Proposed legislation which would allow defendants to use such statistical information in appeals was rejected by the Senate in 1994. African Americans also claim that the far more stringent penalties which apply to sellers and users of crack cocaine are discriminatory when compared to those for users of powder cocaine. They note that crack cocaine use is particularly associated with African Americans while powder cocaine is used by the more affluent middle class whites.
Has residential segregation ended?
Not at all. Residential segregation persists today less because of intolerance but rather based on human greed. White middleclass homeowners are fearful of any factor which may adversely affect the value of their principal economic asset and the real estate industry reacts to this concern by discouraging and excluding prospective minority purchasers. A 1991 study by the National Academy methodically measured the extent of this discriminatory practice.
African Americans are the only minority group to ethnically dominate the neighborhoods that they reside in. This segregation is not economically based. Studies have shown that affluent blacks are more segregated than the poorest Asians and Hispanics.
Studies have also indicated that the major responsibility for this continued segregation is rests with the real estate industry. Discrimination was overt until the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. Black home seekers now face a more subtle process of exclusion. Rather than encountering "white only" signs, there are a covert series of measures. Black buyers are systematically shown, offered, and invited to inspect far fewer homes than comparably qualified white buyers. As a result, their access to suburban housing is substantially reduced. And although white attitudes about racially mixed neighborhoods have changed, there has been a systemic failure to achieve any meaningful goals in residential desegregation.
The effect of residential segregation aggravates the overall trend of income inequality which disproportionately affects African Americans. High levels of income inequality paired with high levels of racial or ethnic segregation result in geographically concentrated poverty. Studies have indicated that such residential class isolation is a primary cause of reduced employment, lowered incomes, fewer marriages and increased unwed childbearing.
How do racial issues affect Hispanics compared to African Americans?
There are significant differences between the two groups.
The Hispanic minority is primarily characterized by recent immigration. More than a third of all Hispanics are immigrants. Hispanics account for almost 50% of legal immigrants and all but a very small portion of illegal immigrants. The majority of American Hispanics are from Mexico. Hispanics are already a high percentage of the population of some western states. Many are now employed throughout the country as agricultural workers and as low wage industrial workers. At the current rate of immigration, Hispanics are projected to constitute approximately 25% of the U.S. population in 2050, a truly dramatic increase.
The poverty statistics associated with Hispanics are primarily a reflection of their recent immigration. The substantially lower wage rate reflects the high proportion of Hispanics who are immigrants in entry level and agricultural jobs. The wage comparisons substantially improve for natives, and are actually better than African Americans who are at the same educational level. The percentage of Hispanic two-parent families approximates the percentage of such families in the white population. Studies also show that young Hispanics have a very high rate of intermarriage with the white non-Hispanic population.
Due to the high numbers of recent immigrants, Hispanic educational performance is low. Educational achievement significantly improves after the first generation but statistics do not indicate that it substantially improves after that, perhaps because intermarriage causes a significant number of high-achieving Hispanic descendants to no longer be classified as Hispanic. Language may affect the slower educational progress although the overwhelming evidence indicates that a "language shift" occurs among almost all the children of immigrants during school years when English becomes the preferred language. The recent emergence of the Spanish media market has not seriously modified this trend. Nevertheless "English-only" political campaigns have become a subtle political tool to target Hispanic minorities. In 1998, California voters supported a measure to eliminate bilingual education although Hispanics and African Americans voted against it.
Despite the differences between Hispanics and African Americans, there are similarities in problems presently faced by both groups. The major issue is economic. Growing wage inequality faces both groups, making it very difficult to emerge from the cycle of poverty or to accumulate assets and their net worth is minimal. They remain employed in sectors of the economy where wage gains have been stagnant. The dark skin of most members of each group makes the ethnic status distinguishable in society which can add to a sense of isolation and pattern of discrimination.
What racial issues affect Asians?
Asians presently constitute approximately 5% of the U.S. population and are projected to constitute almost 10% by 2050. They account for a quarter of the U.S. foreign born population. Over 40% of Hawaiians and over 10% of Californians are Asians. Unlike Hispanics, the Asian immigrant group is not dominated by one single country of origin. As a group their educational attainment is remarkable, outperforming the population as a whole, although achievement varies significantly between the various subgroups. This educational attainment has helped Asians achieve income levels that are greater than the full population average. But Asians are underrepresented in managerial-executive positions, particularly at high levels. They are even more seriously underrepresented as political officials.
What racial and ethnic issues involve American Indians?
American Indians have a unique status in American society, both historically and at present. Fortunately modern Americans are being taught about the plunder of American land from its original inhabitants which included both genocide and ostracism. Until recently, this shameful chapter of American history was buried under the glorification of America's early settlers as they continued to march westward. This history, which contrasts significantly with the Spanish settlement and assimilation to the south, perhaps reflects the strident and stubborn racism otherwise manifested by most white Americans until only recently. It has also provided American Indians an unusual and complicated legal status which influences some of the modern issues facing this group.
There are approximately 2½ million American Indians and Alaskan natives, constituting just slightly less than 1 per cent of the population. Another half percent of the population claims to have a significant amount of Indian heritage. There has been a substantial increase in the population during the last two decades and it is projected to continue which is attributable to more people reporting Indian heritage. There are 317 registered Indian tribes. Five of these tribes account for about half of the population. The largest concentration of Native American populations are in South Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The Indian population has become increasingly urban. With the urbanization trend is a very high intermarriage rate and loss of separate Indian identity. Even in rural areas and reservations, modern media sources have reduced the influence of tribal culture. Only about 14% of American Indians continue to speak their native language and most of them are proficient in English as well. Overall, the Indian population lags behind the population in general in education, income, unemployment, and poverty status. As in the Hispanic population, these negative indicators are misleading to an extent because many descendants of high achieving American Indians are the result of mixed marriages and no longer claim Indian status.
In order to settle armed conflicts in the 19th Century, the Federal Government negotiated compacts with Indian tribes. The result was the development of a reservation system. There are about 275 reservations which remain under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and there are a small number of state-administered reservations on the east coast. Most reservations are in the western states and their aggregate size is about 56 million acres of land - about 2% of the United States, a land area larger than the ten states of West Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island. Despite their size, only two (the Navajo reservation in Arizona and the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma) have populations which exceed 100,000 and both of these populations are less than 150,000. Only about 20% of American Indians now live on reservations and a substantial number of non-Indians reside on these lands as well. The Indian tribes have a limited degree of sovereign status on the reservations and are the primary source of law enforcement and government services. The social service, health and education systems on the reservations have been a federal responsibility. Critics charge that the federal government has been alternatively paternalistic and neglectful in the administration of these programs.
In addition to the reservations, a complicated federally administered land trust system was also established which continues to the subject of litigation as native Americans contend that they have lost land and that their holdings have not been accurately inventoried.
A notable recent development has been the emergence of casino gambling on Indian reservations. Gambling began to become prevalent in the 1980's because reservation activities were considered beyond the reach of state law. The regulatory status of Indian gaming became clarified with the enactment of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which requires the establishment of compacts between states and Indian tribes for the distribution of gaming revenues by casinos operating the more popular forms of gambling such as slot machines and blackjack. Today, gambling exists on about 65% of Indian reservations and reservations have a substantial market share in the gaming industry. The industry has created over 500,000 jobs, many of which employ Indians. There has been a significant economic improvement for Indians residing on casino reservations during the most recent decade.

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