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Obama Election Transforming Perceptions of Race Relations

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Obama Election Transforming Perceptions of Race Relations"

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As you can see on the right, the latest CBS News poll seems to indicate that Barack Obama’s election has led the way in dramatically altering African-American perceptions of race relations in the United States. White people feel somewhat better, too, but black people’s view of the matter has really shifted enormously. Interestingly, and probably accurately, Obama doesn’t actually get a ton of credit for this: “Fifty-nine percent of blacks and 65 percent of whites say race relations have stayed the same since Mr. Obama took office.” Rather than Obama transforming race relations, I would say that Obama’s election seems to indicate that the state of race relations was better than many people realized before the campaign. These days it seems almost funny to look back at the time when many people—white and black, liberal and conservative—thought a black candidate would suffer from an insurmountable disadvantage, but that time wasn’t very long ago.

This is also interesting:

Despite the increasingly positive perceptions, however, most blacks feel that discrimination lingers. Asked who has a better chance to get ahead in U.S. society, fifty-one percent of blacks said white people do. Forty-four percent said both races had equal opportunity, while just one percent said blacks had an advantage.

White people, by contrast, were far more likely to see a level playing field, with 62 percent saying both races had equal opportunity. Roughly one in four white said white people have a better chance to get ahead, while seven percent of whites said black people have the better opportunities.

The white result is about what I would expect. I’m surprised that as many as forty-four percent of blacks say that both races have equal opportunity. I think the evidence is unambiguously clear that they do not. African-American children have parents with lower levels of income and education. Their families, even when they have above-average incomes, tend to have less wealth than white families. And even controlling for parental income and educational attainment, black kids do worse in schools than white kids. Then beyond all that, there’s clear evidence of discrimination against job applicants with “black” names that tends to suggest a broader pattern of employment discrimination. There are inequities in the criminal justice system both in terms of more punishment being meted out to black offenders, and the police and the courts doing less to protect black victims.

I’m not surprised that most white people prefer to ignore this sort of evidence and believe in the existence of equal opportunities, but it’s surprising to me how many African-Americans have adopted an unrealistically optimistic view.

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