Reflections on Race in America

By Washington Monthly

“As America transforms into a majority-minority nation, the concept of race is bound to become even more complex. Young Asian Americans today are navigating layers of identity in addition to race: religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, and immigration status, to name a few. As a result, they understand their racial identities in an intersectional and dynamic way, in part due to changing demographics and multiracial alliance building in communities of color.” —Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together

“When I was a young journalist in the Pacific Northwest, I was writing about the fish wars and how deep the divisions were at present because Native Americans insisted on fishing in usual and accustomed places. But the Supreme Court recognized that tribes had signed treaties that were specific, and required the United States to live up to its part of the bargain. And the general public followed along. In the Northwest tribes are seen as an important part of the community. This is something that many would not have thought possible only forty years ago.” —Mark Trahant, Journalist and Author, The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars

“We have had in black America ever since the Emancipation Proclamation this notion that freedom would mean a better life, a better quality of opportunity, equal chance to compete and achieve without the barriers of slavery.… What I’m feeling in talking to African Americans, both people of income and people without, is that the sense of hopefulness is beginning to wane.… [Obama] should use his political capital to bring the race discussion to the forefront of American society.” —Bob Johnson, Founder, Black Entertainment Television

“I have been extremely encouraged by the way the students I teach in the twenty-first century are different from the students I taught three decades ago. I see that in their not having the same apprehension about race, and sexual orientation, and class, and being much more open to a multiracial society.” —Charles Ogletree, Professor, Harvard Law School

“It’s time for Americans to recognize that the true source of America’s exceptionalism is the great diversity of its people. Ours is the world’s boldest experiment in democracy: to forge a truly multi-origin, multiracial citizenry where everyone is afforded an equal say and an equal chance. But the color-blindness imperative of the post-civil rights era has silenced a national conversation about the challenges of our grand experiment. Our whole country will be less prosperous and less democratic until we address head-on the unsettled question of who is truly included in ‘of, by and for the people.’ ” —Miles Rapoport, President, Demos

“Jim Crow was still alive and well in the Louisiana of my birth; denying African Americans our constitutional rights was a matter of routine. But the first president my younger children will remember is an African American man. The challenge of my parents’ generation was equal rights under the law. The challenge of my generation is equal economic and educational opportunity. I believe the challenge of my children’s generation will be to move beyond the divisions of race and class and embrace a truly diverse society of equal opportunity for all.” —Marc Morial, President, National Urban League

“I think the most notable thing that has changed about race relations in my lifetime is that you see a lot more success from our community. You don’t just see us being pigeonholed into being just an athlete or an entertainer—you can do something as crazy as run the country. To see that happen in my lifetime is definitely a great transition for our country, and I still think that the best is yet to come.” —Keyon Dooling, Former NBA Player and Community Relations Consultant for the Boston Celtics

“The situation today for tribal nations in the United States, and American Indian and Alaska Native people, is the direct result of past relationships with white society—culturally, racially, and politically.… Policies over the past 500 years have played a role in not only defining our cultural and racial relations but also the political relations between the Native peoples of this country and other nations.” —Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director, National Congress of American Indians

“Race relations in our country have become exponentially more complex in my lifetime. Becoming a majority-people-of-color nation is no small matter. We have a greater variety of people asserting an American identity in a wider range of venues than ever, bringing opportunities to attend to racial discrimination and injustice. Elevating the value of equity is our best bet for positive race relations moving forward.” —Rinku Sen, Publisher, Colorlines

“The practice of race has changed [in modern America], but we are living in the shadow of its history. It shows up in the unconscious and in our societal structures and culture. The future is fraught with possibilities and anxieties. We need to better understand our past, contemporary practices, and who we are and might be in a world where the old racialized self no longer makes sense. The old is dying, but the new has not yet been born.” —John A. Powell, Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley

“Our children today … absolutely think of race differently. It is perfectly normal [for them] to have a person of color as their president, their surgeon, their teacher, and as their hero. It’s the ‘new normal.’… Today, anything is possible with perseverance, hard work, and determination!” —Marlo Hampton, Fashionista and Former Star, Real Housewives of Atlanta

“As we embark on the second term of our first black president, Barack Obama, I feel that racial barriers are being slowly eliminated. My way of thinking is to always be optimistic, and I feel that the next generation will accept people based upon character, morals, and values. The issue of race will no longer be a factor, and we will all unify as Americans in harmony.” —Porsha Stewart, Newlywed, Mom, and Star, Real Housewives of Atlanta

“This past presidential election illustrated how race continues to be as much a challenge in the twenty-first century as W. E. B. Du Bois predicted ‘the color-line’ would be the problem of the twentieth century. With burgeoning Asian and Latino populations, the nation is growing increasingly diverse—let us hope that from our children will emerge the consciousness that we are all equal, regardless of our race.” —Thomasina Williams, Esq., Research Affiliate, MIT Community Innovators Lab

Click here to read more from Jan/Feb 2013 cover package “Race, History, and Obama’s Second Term.