Post-Racial? Not Even Close

Posted on 13 December 2011

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By Daniel Byrd, Ph.D. and Bruce Mirken
Greenlining Institute

After Barack Obama’s election as president, a number of pundits rushed to declare that America had entered a “post-racial” era, and issues of race could go on the historical scrap heap next to the Cold War and typewriters. They were, it turns out, spectacularly wrong.

To assess attitudes toward race as we approach Obama’s reelection campaign, we analyzed data from one of the most highly regarded academic surveys of political opinion, the American National Election Survey, led by researchers at Stanford and the University of Michigan. We found a racial divide with serious implications for a nation well on its way to having a nonwhite majority.

Differences in perception between blacks and whites are so stark that these two groups might be living on separate planets. For example, while a solid majority of African Americans believe there is “a lot” of racial discrimination in America today, just 16 percent of whites think so.

An equally large racial chasm exists on issues that are easily measured, such as income. All the official statistics point in the same direction: U.S. blacks, on average, have markedly lower incomes than whites. They also have less wealth and significantly higher rates of unemployment. The reasons for these gaps can be debated, but their existence cannot.

Except that a majority of white Americans have no clue, believing that whites’ and blacks’ incomes are “about the same.” Only 37 percent of whites answered this question correctly, compared to two thirds of  blacks and 52 percent of Latinos.  

One of the most striking gaps was in answers to the question, “How does the U.S. government treat blacks now compared to whites?” Just over 56 percent of blacks said that the government treats whites better than blacks, while 43 percent said it treated whites and blacks about equally and only about one percent thought the government treats blacks better than whites.

Whites saw a very different picture, with 63 percent saying the government treats blacks and whites the same and 28 percent believing that it treats blacks better than whites. Just nine percent of whites thought that black Americans get treated worse than whites by their government.

Some misconceptions coincide to a disturbing degree with right-wing media narratives that have become prevalent in recent years. For example, it has become almost an article of faith among some on the right that government programs that assist people of color, such as the Community Reinvestment Act, triggered the financial crisis. The fact that this has been repeatedly debunked hasn’t stopped pundits like Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby from blaming the crisis on “pressure to make more loans to minorities (read: borrowers with weak credit histories),” as he did in a 2008 column.

We believe that this growing racial divide imperils efforts to revive our country’s economy and build a strong future. It’s serious enough that opinion leaders in and out of government need to do something.

The media must make a much more serious effort to inform the public about racial issues. Including the voices and experiences of African Americans and other communities of color when addressing subjects like the foreclosure crisis isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

And political leaders must refrain from using racially inflammatory appeals. Thinly coded race-baiting (like one GOP presidential candidate’s recent branding of Obama as “the food stamp president”) may get applause from hardcore partisans, but poisons the public dialogue.

The voices leading our national conversation must do better.


Daniel Byrd, Ph.D. is research director and Bruce Mirken is media relations coordinator at The Greenlining Institute. Their report, “Post-Racial? Americans and Race in the Age of Obama,” is available at

Any person who works in corporate America and sees Affirmative Action and diversity training programs knows exactly what is going on. So, please don't lecture me on what is reality.

Folks who work in "corporate America" have to work with Affirmative Action and diversity training mostly because of corporate policies that have lead to liability lawsuits when managers sexually harrass another person or say racially derogatory statements or do horrible things because of a persons race. Those corporations that don't have employment policies and programs that state that those types of behavior will not be tolerated have been held liable for damages. Some of the more egregious examples are a supervisor masturbating on an female employees desk in front of her; feeding dogfood to a black employee at lunch and so on. Corporations have these programs to insulate themselves from liability. Your "Ivory Tower" view doesn't hold up to reality. So, apparently you think you know what reality is, but in fact, do not.

So, when you are told that only minority and females will be promoted for the next several years so that the corporation will be compliant with diversity requirements, I somehow misunderstand what this means?

My brother use to work for Ford motor. He is an excellent engineer. He was told, off the record, by his manager that he would not be promoted (despite being told he was the best engineer in the department) because he wasn't a minority and/or female. My brother finally got his promotion, he works for toyota.