America has come a long way since the dark days when slavery marred the continent. The journey to equality was not always a smooth one, and only in the last half-century have African-Americans been granted their complete rights and freedoms. Now that they have these equal rights, they are taking their place to take advantage of their equal opportunities, but there still seems to be a glass ceiling preventing their further progress.
White Americans still cite racial progress in many areas, while the reality remains that much of this progress is illusion. With the election of Barack Obama as the President of the United States, it seems safe to say that racial relations in the country have certainly improved in the past fifty years. In the 1950s, many African-Americans could not even vote in many parts of the country, with racist leaders and citizens doing everything in their power to deny this most basic of rights.
Once desegregation took effect and was enforced by the federal government, it seemed that African-Americans had finally achieved equality. However, this was largely a myth based on the horrible conditions they once faced, and the current conditions still often view them as a marginalized race. Couple this with the massive influx of Latin Americans into the U. S. , and race relations are just as explosive as they were in the 1960s.
One program designed to aid racial equality is affirmative action, which has been both a blessing and a curse for minorities. Originally conceived as a means to redress discrimination, affirmative action has created racial preferences that have instead promoted discrimination. And rather than fostering harmony and integration, these preferences have divided many businesses and college campuses across the country.
In no other area of public life is there a greater disparity between the rhetoric of preferences and the reality than with affirmative action. Many have cited lesser qualified applicants hired or accepted to colleges based on race, not qualifications or need. If preferences were truly meant to remedy disadvantage, they would be given on the basis of disadvantage, not on the basis of race, so that a poor, qualified white student would stand a better chance of being admitted than the under-qualified son of a black doctor.
This illustrates a problem with the idealism of affirmative action and how remedying some racial issues have merely created unfairness in other areas. Instead of a remedy for disadvantage, many supporters now claim that preferences promote “diversity. ” This same push for “diversity” also has led colleges like Stanford University to create racially segregated dormitories, racially segregated freshman orientation programs, racially segregated graduation ceremonies and curricular requirements in race theory and gender studies (Sacks & Thiel, 1996).
But if “diversity” was really the goal, then preferences would be given on the basis of unusual characteristics, not on the basis of race. The underlying assumption—that only minorities can add certain ideas or perspectives—is offensive not merely because it is untrue but also because it implies that all minorities think a certain way. While affirmative action is a noble effort, it is perhaps antiquated. Today, while African-Americans enjoy greater freedom and equality, Latinos have come to represent the current racial crisis.
Many conservative Americans demand that they learn English, adopt American culture, and assimilate or leave. Additionally, Middle Eastern Americans are finding life equally difficult and face often violent retributions for crimes that they did not commit. This xenophobic behavior may be largely from the scares encouraged by global terrorism, but may also be representative of the fact that not much has really changed except the language used to discuss race.
The only way to truly understand the state of race in America and make a balanced assessment is to measure the equality of each race. The sad state is that many of the minorities in America are still marginalized, make less money, and have far less influence politically than the dominant white culture. Progressive and liberal legislation may continue to chip away at long held racial prejudices, but Americans cannot achieve complete equality unless it is an endeavor equally valued by all.
Unfortunately, as history has shown, those in power will be reticent to relinquish that power, and those in power in America are still largely male, largely white, and largely though subtly fearful of difference. With a president with parent that are black and white, much of the racial future of America rests with a man that represents better than anyone the progress made in the past fifty years, as well as the distance left to travel until true racial harmony is achieved.