Features

Reflections on Race in America

By Washington Monthly

“Certainly this is a country that was founded on slavery, genocide, land stealing, and policy marked by racism. But at the same time there are struggles to find our better angels, there are the struggles against slavery, for emancipation, civil rights, suffrage, and liberalization of immigration policy. So people should be focusing on our better angels for the future. In the end, there are a lot of things to celebrate.” —Manuel Pastor, Professor, University of Southern California

“If the next generation is going to think differently about race, then we are going to have to act differently about race now. Our faith challenges us to take on and fix broken, unjust systems, like schools and health care, where the opportunity you receive is greatly shaped by the color of your skin. [Changing] the conversation on race in America is going to require that we get serious about dismantling the prison pipeline, working to ensure citizenship for all residents, and creating education and employment options for everyone—especially those on the margins.” —Reverend Alvin Herring, Executive Director, PICO Louisiana

“What I think communities of color are looking for … is progress on key items on their agenda that will help close the gaps that still exist in our society. Among these are issues like increased job creation, making health care more accessible, addressing the foreclosure crisis, and enacting comprehensive immigration reform.” —Janet Murguia, President, National Council of La Raza

“The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery. One hundred years later, Dr. King requested a second Emancipation Proclamation to eviscerate Jim Crow. This year, on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we need to end the ‘new Jim Crow’—mass incarceration and the war on drugs. The original act of emancipation split our nation among partisan and geographical lines. With this new manifestation of slavery, there is hope for a burgeoning consensus that transcends old lines of division in favor of a newfound moral rectitude and common sense.” —Ben Jealous, President, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

“President Obama was on the right path when he set out to create the most open government in the history of the U.S. The agenda [now] must include community-scale energy solutions, public transportation equity that connects people to opportunities, broadband and spectrum infrastructure investment that drive community benefits and at times promote community-owned and community-driven networks, and policies that will create a more equitable food system, from seed to community.” —Maya Wiley, Founder, Center for Social Inclusion

“We know that Americans like to imagine that they can reinvent themselves every generation. But the legacy of the past is all around us, both in the social structures that we have inherited and in the attitudes and assumptions that we carry with us every day. I think that many people—perhaps white people especially—fail to see the discriminatory structures that are built into our surroundings.” —Philip Tegeler, President, Poverty & Race Research Action Council

“As a child of the 1960s, I was raised on the South Side of Chicago, and my life as a young person was informed by race. There was anger on the streets, but also hope. My mother—a Mexican immigrant—took us to multiracial demonstrations in support of civil rights. The meaning of ‘minority’ has since changed—it no longer means ‘disenfranchised outsider.’ Nor does it necessarily mean people of color! A power shift is taking place, and the ways to move the conversation forward are in different hands now, not just in one small group. Hay esperanza!” —Maria Hinojosa, Journalist and Founder, Futuro Media Group

“We do not live in a postracial society, nor do we desire a world that is color-blind. Quite to the contrary, we desire a world that fully acknowledges color and embraces difference but does not discriminate based on race or ethnicity. Stated simply, we envision a world that is not postracial but, rather, postracism.” —Randal Pinkett, Author and Season 4 Winner, The Apprentice

“As Americans, we’re very committed to the ideal that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can get ahead. But the reality is that race makes a huge difference in the opportunities you have—at school, in the workplace, everywhere. As we become a more diverse society, we’re going to have to confront the ways racism keeps people from their full potential. That might be uncomfortable, but it’s absolutely necessary if we’re going to keep the American experiment of democracy alive.” —Scott Reed, Executive Director, PICO National Network

“During my lifetime, black and white relations were illegal. I was jailed with classmates trying to use a public library. During my lifetime, the laws for voting have changed, behavior has changed, the way we relate to one another has changed.… We have elected our first African American president and reelected him with and by a multicultural coalition. While there is unfinished business, we have made a great deal of progress. We have become more secure as a nation, and it will only get better.” —Reverend Jesse L. Jackson Sr., Founder, Rainbow PUSH Coalition

“President Obama’s election itself represents historic progress for equal opportunity in our nation. But in his second term, I would like to see him move away from the inaccurate cliché that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ and recognize that addressing the unequal barriers facing many communities of color is part of being a president for all the people. Overcoming those barriers is in the moral and economic interest of the nation and everyone in it.” —Alan Jenkins, Executive Director, Opportunity Agenda

“I recently saw two teenagers skateboarding in the street. One was a tall, skinny, white kid with wild crazy hair. The other was a tall, lanky, black kid with a wild crazy Afro. They were laughing and congratulating each other on their awesome moves. From my perspective, race did not matter to them. They were simply brothers and best friends. I often see examples where race doesn’t seem to matter to the younger generation.” —Kim Coles, Cohost, My Black Is Beautiful

“[R]ace affects all aspects of life, from the environment in which we are raised, to our physical and mental health. We must continue efforts across all sectors to erase racial disparities and help all people live equally long and healthy lives.”— Kathy Lim Ko, President, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

“Racial and ethnic health inequities remain deep and persistent. They result from the nation’s history of racial inequality, as well as ongoing segregation and discrimination. To remedy health inequities we must expand opportunity for all in sectors like education, housing, access to good jobs, and, of course, equitable health care.” —Brian Smedley, Vice President, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

“Before passage of the Affordable Care Act, over thirty-two million Americans were uninsured, many of whom disproportionately happen to be minorities—even more so, African Americans. Full implementation of the ACA means that people will have access to proper medical care, [which] … is one of the most crucial steps in helping to eliminate [racial] health disparities.” —Harry Reid, Majority Leader, United States Senate

“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.