Humanity has been enduring an ongoing battle for centuries: the strained relations among the races. Despite efforts to put the past behind, signs remain at nearly every juncture that there still exists a strong sense of racial dissension. While many Caucasians do not see the problem being as severe as it is represented, African-Americans angrily reply that the lighter skinned race has not had to endure such prejudice and, therefore, cannot begin to identify with the situation.
Frank Newport, vice president of the Gallup Poll Organization, says Caucasian Americans do not interpret racism as a big problem, therefore, they do not see a need for “government intervention” (Anonymous, 1997; 04A). Similarly, Asians, Hispanics and other United States minorities believe they often receive unfair treatment because of their race.
However, President Clinton and several organizations — including the National Multicultural Institute, whose main focus is to “sort out the jumble of expectations and fears that swirl around the initiative’s struggle to reconcile ethnicity and difference with the notion of one American nation” (Green, 1998; PG) — are pushing hard to mend racial tension with a comprehensive program that is designed to bring all races together. Will it work? Or will minorities look upon the effort as nothing more than a Band-Aid covering a much larger issue?
To some extent, concepts such as affirmative action have their place in society, yet they will do nothing to alter an individual’s perception of one race or another. In the past, children’s racial viewpoints have routinely been shaped by their parents’ perceptions. This is precisely how racial prejudice is passed down from generation to generation. However, today’s teens appear to be breaking free of the antiquated procession by voicing their own opinions about race relations.
While racial hate crimes continue to run rampant, the newer generation tends to believe there is less interracial tension than do their parents (Farley, 1997). What has instigated this considerably lax attitude among the younger generation is not quite clear; yet a TIME/CNN poll has discovered that the adolescent population is far more forgiving of racial prejudices than their adult counterparts.
Of twelve hundred, eighty-two adults and six hundred one teenagers aged twelve to seventeen; the younger sect demonstrated a considerable amount of racial tolerance toward one another when compared with the older respondents (Farley, 1997). If given the opportunity, children and young adults will not adopt negative views of other races if they are not placed in such an environment that encourages such thought. However, with the deep-seated hatred that has been bred into so many generations, it has become difficult for some of those prejudice intentions not to trickle down the family line.
Yet the TIME/CNN poll was instrumental in establishing that a good number of adolescence of all races have successfully “moved beyond their parents’ views of race” (Farley, 1997; 88+). To the kids with such an open mind, race is no more important to them in either a social or personal level; yet it is not to be overlooked that these same respondents were still able to recognize the fact that racism was one of America’s biggest problems today. Even so, over one-third said the problem — though it exists — is insignificant (Farley, 1997; 88+).
As it relates to their own lives, eighty-nine percent of the African-American adolescents who responded said the problem was small or did not exist at all. Amazingly, the Caucasian respondents – both young and old — considered racism a more “dominant issue” (Farley, 1997; 88+) than did the African-American adolescent respondents. What does that say about the varying impressions of race relations? Depending upon which race is viewing the issue, it appears the seriousness of the problem could be considerably damaging or an insignificant obstacle.
Still, optimism is high that the younger generation deems race relations as being in good standing. This may be a “sign of hope” (Farley, 1997; 88+) or nothing more than “youthful naivete” (88+); regardless, it demonstrates a long awaited shift in the social climate relating to race relations and its consequences. Sociologist Joe R. Feagin says the answer may lie with both options. His interpretation of the lack of adolescent racism is that reality has not fully set in for those who have not yet experienced the real world.
“You have to be out looking for jobs and housing to know how much discrimination is out there” (Farley, 1997; 88+). Feagin contends that those who have a better grasp of racial reality are those who are over the age of nineteen. Reasoning behind this is that comparatively few African-American teenage respondents said they had been victimized by discrimination; contrarily, half of the African-American adults admitted they had (Farley, 1997). Experts are concerned that adolescents are being too gullible when it comes to realizing the truth of the matter.
Others contend that perhaps they are willfully setting a precedence for others to follow that will ultimately initiate a genuine improvement in race relations. It is not as though contemporary teenagers do not have knowledge of history and its negative treatment of minority races; rather, it appears they have more faith in their own future than their parents did before them. Additionally, today’s youth are trying to move away from the typical “scapegoating” (Farley, 1997; 88+) that has become so commonplace in society.
Suspicions arise with poll results, however, in that they do not always reflect the truth; many people are more apt to give “socially acceptable” (Farley, 1997; 88+) answers rather than what is truly in their hearts. Yet this is not likely to be the contention of teenagers who, for the most part, speak more freely and true to form than adults. A believer in this concept is sociologist Howard Pinderhuges, author of Race in the Hood: Conflict and Violence Among Urban Youth, who firmly contends that teenagers are genuine.
“Teenagers are a mirror of our souls. They speak plainly about things that adults would like to hide. Political correctness isn’t an issue to them. You’re more likely to get what they think unfiltered” (Farley, 1997; 88+). Still, through all this optimism, there exists an invisible boundary line that, even though race relations seem to be improving, keeps the races separated. Seventeen-year-old Danny, one of the TIME/CNN respondents, commented that his friends consisted more of African-Americans than Caucasians.
This, in and of itself, was not as enlightening as was his admission of the fact that “we just talk in school” (Farley, 1997; 88+), not allowing the relationship to progress into one’s personal territory. It was a normal occurrence for none of Danny’s African-American friends to visit him at home or for him to go to theirs; the lines of separation were clearly drawn. Experts consider this to be accountable in large part to the amount of violence that takes place in the “crime-plagued housing projects” (Farley, 1997; 88+) where many of his friends live.
The situation is far from unusual. Even among African-American youths, the interpretation of neighborhood safety has its variations. According to the TIME/CNN poll, forty percent of African-American teenagers claim to have known someone in their age group who has been killed, whereas just fifteen percent of Caucasian teenagers said they had experienced the same. Interestingly, African-American youths believe they are treated unfairly by enforcement officers, while one-third believe they are “at risk” (Farley, 1997; 88+) of receiving unfair treatment.
Just one of five Caucasian youths feels the same. John Hope Franklin, head of President Clinton’s race relations task force, claims genuine racial betterment will not arrive until “you have improvement in the home conditions of kids of all kinds” (Farley, 1997; 88+). An intriguing informal study gives an indication of how racial difference runs deep within an individual’s psyche. Psychologist and author Beverly Tatum, who recently wrote Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? , routinely poses the following question to psychology students: “I am _______.
” What is most interesting about the answers she receives is the fact that Caucasian students fill in the blank with an adjective describing their personalities or characters, whereas students of other races are more apt to finish the sentence identifying their ethnicity. According to Tatum, such racial recognition is born out of adolescent peer pressure, “societal influences and self-reflection” (Farley, 1997; 88+). Polls are regularly put to use to determine the public climate on race relations.
A recent USA TODAY survey of more than two thousand college freshmen from around the country reported that forty-five percent perceived race relations as having a positive stance within society; in all, two percent thought relations between African-Americans and Caucasians were excellent (Kohen, 1998; PG). A poll in The Independent, a British publication, noted that one-third of the Caucasians believed one should marry only within one’s race (Forna, 1998; 1, 2). Granted, views of younger generations may be quite a bit more diverse than those of the older sect, but those younger views are what will ultimately shape the future of the country.
Being on campus allows people the opportunity to intermingle more frequently with those of other races, which may give them the false impression that the rest of the world is as friendly with one another as they are at school. Unlike out in the real world, campus life encourages the fraternization of racial groups, attempting to overthrow the narrow- mindedness often found on the streets of reality. Noel Barrion, Asian American Student Union president, observes this difference each and everyday he looks to see who is sitting next to one another in the school cafeteria.
“Racial discrimination is out there. People just aren’t aware” (Kohen, 1998; PG). Barrion says the AASU works hard to bridge the gap that separates the races as they exist on campus. Naima Stevenson, Black Student Union President, says the solution to “combating racial discrimination” (Kohen, 1998; PG) is to keep the lines of communication as wide open as possible in order to “confront the complexity and richness of in the United States” (Delgado, 1997; 39A). Because of this forward moving attitude, the relationship between the two campus racial organizations is in good standing.
Says Barrion: “The vehicle between us becoming friends is the desire to be involved” (Kohen, 1998; PG). Both Stevenson and Barrion admit to the difficulty of establishing just how much race relations have changed for the worse or better during their short stay at college, but they both have reason to remain positive that future change will be for the better. For Stevenson, looking back after several years to find a marked improvement in campus race relations would be ideal. They both believe that if relations continue in the manner they currently are, this would not be such an unexpected occurrence (Kohen, 1998; PG).
However, it is not uncommon to find just the opposite opinion from other students. The USA TODAY poll revealed that far more African-Americans sense the negativity with regard to race relations than does any other race. Yet despite actions in place to bridge the racial gap, those like Barrion and Stevenson believe far more can be done than the efforts currently available on American college campuses. While the opportunity is there for expansion, there is just “not enough diversity on campus” (Kohen, 1998; PG).
“It looks like it will still be the same problem going into the new millennium. There’s plenty of opportunity to meet someone of another culture or that you would have never known about before” (Kohen, 1998; PG). President Clinton has set his sights on bridging the racial gap in an effort to improve the country’s “deteriorating race relations” (McFeatters, 1997; 68). By using his clout as Chief Executive and standing behind the affirmative action policy, Clinton hopes to turn around some of the prejudice that continues to spread across the land.
A speech he gave at the Million Man March in Texas in 1995 effectively forecasted America’s situation as one where an inordinate number of people “fear deep down inside that they’ll never quite be able to see each other as more than enemy faces, all of whom carry a sliver of bigotry in their hearts” (McFeatters, 1997; 68). Clinton contends that America must clean its house of racism; that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (McFeatters, 1997; 68). While these words ring true, it is not clear as to what the President intends to do in the long run to curb racism in the United States.
One thing he does propose is a more fair system of dispersing wage earnings among African-Americans, of who only one-fourth make upwards of thirty-five thousand dollars a year compared to one-half of all Caucasian Americans (McFeatters, 1997; 68). Speaking on the topic of integration, President Clinton agreed with Franklin who proposed the only way to clear the cloudy air of racism was to encourage “open and honest dialogue” (McFeatters, 1997; 68) among the races; that it was, indeed, the “critical first step” (68) in the direction of genuine racial integration.
Other critics say it is time to “end the reliance on racism as an explanatory concept” (Wortham, 1996; 253) for all racial problems and “move beyond the black-white paradigm” (Gold, 1998; B-2) when the topic turns to race relations. “When we say true integration, we mean the opportunity of every American to develop to the fullest extent of his capacity. We mean that every individual regardless then of regardless of religion, regardless of ethnicity, every American has an opportunity, should have an opportunity to move forward as rapidly as his talents, his or her talents, and as rapidly as the opportunities open” (Page et al, 1998; PG).
BIBLIOGRAPHY Introduction to Psychology; Inner Reality, Outer Reality in Diversity, Jennifer Iljas ISBN: 0-7575-2864-3 Anonymous (1997, June). Poll finds pessimism on status and future of U. S. race relations// Perceptions are black and white. Star Tribune, pp. 04A. Delgado, Richard; Perea, Juan F. (1997, November). Racism goes beyond black and white. Rocky Mountain News, pp. 39A. Farley, Christopher John (1997, November).
Society: Kids and race: A new poll shows teenagers, black and white, have moved beyond their parents’ views of race. TIME, pp. 88+. Forna, Aminatta (1998, August). Bridge over troubled water. Independent on Sunday, pp. 1, 2. Gold, Matea (1998, February). L. A. shares its experiences with race relations panel; Diversity: Video points out what the city has learned and seeks to widen presidential advisory group’s discussion beyond black-white issues. Los Angeles Times, pp. B-2. Green, Sharon (1998, May).
Washington, DC, President’s initiative on race: Progress. Talk of the Nation (NPR), pp. PG. Kohen, Rochelle (1998, February). USA Today survey reveals poor perception of race relations. University Wire, pp. PG. McFeatters, Ann (1997; May). Clinton hopes to close racial divide. Rocky Mountain News, pp. 68A. Page, Clarence; Hansen, Liane (1998, June). Race Initiative. Weekend Sunday (NPR),pp. PG. Wortham, Anne (1996, January). Distorting the Dilemma. The World & I, vol. 11, pp. 253.
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