King's dream 'an elusive goal' as country remains racially divided
Posted January 19, 2015
Updated January 20, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Although Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others fought and died for racial equality in the United States, recent events have inflicted fresh wounds on the state of race relations in America, which continues to divide blacks and whites.
While 79 percent of African-Americans feel that “a lot” needs to be done to achieve racial equality, only 44 percent of whites agree, according to numbers released Monday from the Pew Research Center.
When it comes to whether African-Americans in their communities are treated less fairly than whites in certain situations, the difference of opinion between blacks and whites is wide, from dealings with police (70 percent to 47 percent), to the justice system (68 percent to 27 percent) to work (54 percent to 16 percent).
Regarding black/white relations, 62 percent of whites said both get along “pretty well” with each other while 48 percent of blacks felt the same, the center said.
But the numbers didn’t matter much for Emily Hamrick, a North Carolina Central University student who spent Monday volunteering at a United Way service project at the school.
“We have Asians over here. We have Hispanics,” she said. “We have whites, blacks and they’re all kind of just working together, putting blankets together, putting food together.”
Hamrick said she wouldn’t expect anything different on the MLK holiday, but others at the event believe that race relations are not as harmonious during the rest of the year.
“I think they are better,” Colleen Kochanek said. “But I still think there are some underlying tensions in our country and some things we need to address.”
Protests comparable to civil rights movement
Race relations have been on the forefront of American thought since grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, N.Y. not to indict white officers in the deaths of unarmed black men resulted in protests across the country that ranged from peaceful to violent. Reaction to the non-indictments, which included protesters shutting down highways and holding “die-ins” on college campuses and in malls, also spawned the rallying call “Black Lives Matter.”
Protests in Durham, which at one point occurred weekly, ranged from peaceful marches to arrests, demonstrators stopping traffic on the Durham Freeway and a “die-in” inside the Streets at Southpoint mall. The Bull City became the Triangle’s epicenter for these demonstrations due to the city’s recent history with police, said Irv Joyner, a NCCU law professor specializing in civil rights.
Joyner cited violent marches in January and February 2014 after a teenager shot and killed himself while handcuffed in the back of a Durham police car, and a report in May 2014 by the Durham Human Relations Commission claiming racial bias within the Durham Police Department.
“I think that clearly they’re similar in the sense that they are designed to bring attention to specific issues and concerns,” he said in December when asked about their similarities with the civil rights movement. “And then to educate the larger community about the concerns and the degree of anger which exists among a certain segment of people and allowing the media to help express those concerns to the larger population.”
King’s dream deferred
After the Ferguson verdict, President Barack Obama directly addressed the decision's racial implications.
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation,” he said. “The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.”
About 80 percent of blacks polled in a Pew survey following the Ferguson shooting said the incident “raised issues that need to be discussed,” but only 37 percent of whites felt the same. Half of whites polled said race was getting more attention than it deserved, according to survey results.
In 2013, which marked 50 years after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, only 45 percent of Americans believed the country had made substantial progress towards racial equality while 49 percent said a lot more needs to be done, according to a Pew study.
About 80 percent of blacks believed more needs to be done to achieve King’s dream of racial parity, but only 44 percent of whites agreed, the 2013 report said.
The study described King’s dream of racial equality as “an elusive goal.”
“Echoing the social fractures of the civil rights era, the survey finds the country remains deeply divided by race and by political partisanship over what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done to achieve racial equality,” it said.
But one's opinion regarding race relations mostly depends on where they are financially, Joyner, the NCCU professor, said Monday.
"If you are highly educated and you have financial security, then you are more satisfied than those who are at the bottom, where the vast majority of African-Americans and racial minorities are," he said. "They're trying to get in and the doors are being closed."
Joyner believes race relations are "pretty good," but said racial bias, racial discrimination and racial animosity are at "an all-time high."
"There is an increase in the number of African-American elected officials right on up to the White House," he said. "There is an increase in the participation of African-Americans in the professions, in the news media for instance, in education, in colleges and universities. Larger number of people getting degrees and graduate degrees now."
Hopes of film sparking dialogue
Part of King’s legacy is currently on the big screen. “Selma” tells the story of the campaign leading up to the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. and the passage of the 1963 Voting Rights Act.
Erin Campbell, who watched the movie on Monday, said things haven’t changed much since then, but hopes the film creates dialogue regarding the current state of race relations in America.
“Obviously what Dr. King fought for we have now, but there are still massive problems,” the Raleigh resident said. “If you just change the details about it, it's still the same. When you start talking about the distribution of power, and you start talking about barriers in the way for racial minorities to advance in society, that's when you run into the problems.”