Almost eight years after the election of the nation's first black president, a new study finds that the racial divide between whites and blacks in America is still at Grand Canyon levels—which proves that a racially harmonious country remains an elusive dream that even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have had trouble envisioning.
According to a study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday, 4 in 10 black people don't believe that race relations will ever improve. Ever.
African Americans polled by Pew rightfully had a tough time finding optimism against the backdrop of years of black lives lost to deadly police force that has historically been met with impunity. Just last week, Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was acquitted on all charges in the death of Freddie Gray. Goodson, the driver of the van that was transporting Gray in April 2015, had faced the most serious charges of all six officers indicted for Gray's death. Those polled were unable to imagine, in this lifetime or any other, that the world would self-correct and undo its history of racial impropriety.
In short, the study adds statistical support to what most of us already know: Race relations in this country are doomed and always have been.
To put things in perspective, a CBS/New York Times survey found that race relations hit a low in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots after several white officers were acquitted in the beating of motorist Rodney King. During that time, some 68 percent believed that race relations in the U.S. were bad. Although optimism increased slightly over the years, it dropped significantly in August 2014 after the shooting death of unarmed Ferguson, Mo., teen Michael Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson, amid riots and cries for an end to police brutality.
After the death of Gray, 61 percent of people polled believed that race relations were again in bad shape. If there is a connection to be made here, it is that people generally don't believe in a harmonious racial nation after police kill unarmed black people.
One thing blacks and whites surveyed seem to find common ground on is the idea that race relations are not improving.
"Overall, relatively few Americans think race relations are headed in a positive direction. Only 19% say race relations are improving, while about four-in-ten say they are getting worse (38%)," the study found.
Because race is such a divisive topic and race tends to cloud the lens through which life is viewed, a race-relations study only shows how truly divided we are. Fifty-one percent of blacks polled believe that Obama has made race relations better, and yet one-third of white America believes that the president has ruined race relations.
It's clear that racial disparity in the country is the norm, but the question of how to solve issues of racial inequality is even more perplexing. While the Black Lives Matter movement—born after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin in 2012—has done a great job of gaining national attention (81 percent of blacks and 76 percent of whites surveyed noted that they had heard of the movement), not many believe in its ability to implement lasting change.
According to the study, 65 percent of African Americans and 64 percent of white Democrats polled believe in the mission of Black Lives Matter, and yet only 20 percent of blacks believe that it will be effective in helping African Americans achieve long-term equality.
A vast majority of blacks and whites polled agreed that community engagement may be effective in helping to combat racial inequality, but when asked exactly how that would happen—wait for it—the two groups disagreed.
Four in 10 (38 percent) of black adults believe that having more black officials at all levels of government is one way to tackle the issue. Only 24 percent of whites agreed.
Adding to the long list of racially discouraging stats, the study also noted the following:
- Whites have significantly higher levels of wealth than blacks—almost 13 times the wealth of their black counterparts.
- Homeownership is more common among whites than among other racial and ethnic groups.
- The black unemployment rate today is double that of whites.
- Nonmarital births are more than twice as common among blacks as among whites.
- More than half of black children now live with a single parent.
It's safe to conclude that as long as the wealth gap continues to grow; as long as the country continues to employ uneven and unfair sentencing policies; and as long as unarmed black people continue to die at the hands of police, it's not only hard to imagine an optimistic outlook on race in the U.S.—it's impossible.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.