A Long Way to Achieve the “Post-Racial” Dream

Racial disparities persist.

Posted Apr 06, 2014

An ongoing debate in my Social Psychology courses is whether or not the United States is in fact a “post-racial” society. Well, to be fair, it isn’t much of a debate—as every semester the consensus of the class is a forceful and resounding, “Not even close”. Despite the progress made towards greater equality in this country not just between race and ethnicities but based on other social categories like gender and sexual orientation, inequalities based on race and ethnicity remain rampant in our country today.

When identifying racial inequalities that persist, it is important to keep in mind that the sources for them are manifold. Indeed, it isn’t necessarily the case that prejudicial attitudes or discriminatory behavior on an individual level is what is driving these disparities (although that may also remain relevant), but rather, oftentimes, it is systemic or institutional forces that are behind such pervasive inequalities. Moreover, for these trends to be reversed, we need to move beyond individual explanations or perpetrators to tackle public policy on a more systemic or institutional level.

Here are some particularly glaring racial inequities that I would like to highlight that need to be targeted in order to move our country closer to one that really has evolved beyond race, for those of us who like to think that racism is a thing of the past:

Drug Policy. Scholars identify that, “the drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color” (“Race & Drug War”, n.d., para 1). Indeed, while polls identify virtually equal drug use across races, higher arrests and incarceration rates occur among the black and Hispanic population relative to white Americans. The failed “War on Drugs” policy is well known within academic circles, and to a certain extent has been recognized by present Attorney General Eric Holder. For instance, in an interview with NPR, Holder recognized that communities of color have been particular “decimated” by the multi-decades war on drugs.

Breast Cancer. A searing analysis of breast cancer mortality trends in major cities across the U.S. found that race strongly correlated with whether or not a woman would survive the disease. In fact, as reported by Parker-Pope (2014):

A troubling racial divide in breast cancer mortality continues to widen in most major cities around the country, suggesting that advances in diagnosis and treatment continue to bypass African-American women, according to new research. (para 1)

The report goes on to identify that the main culprits of this startling racial divide in surviving a disease that has seen drops in mortality rates across the decades is based on, “lower access to screening, lower-quality screening, less access to treatment and lower-quality treatment among black women” (Parker-Pope, 2014, para 9). Moreover, experts identify that the research undeniably reflects a systemic racism that is blocking the majority of black women from capitalizing on the medical advancements that have enabled the mortality rates of the disease to significantly shrink for white women. It should also be noted that the racial disparities cannot be explained by genetics.

Glass Ceiling. Originally coined in reference to barriers women experienced in the workplace, the glass ceiling has expanded to refer to invisible barriers minorities as well face in rising to top managerial or executive positions professionally. The glass ceiling perhaps most explicitly reflects systemic or institutional discrimination that undermines upward mobility for women and/or people of color. Indeed, Obama’s rise to the most powerful position in this country was groundbreaking precisely because it was perceived as indicative of a breaking of that barrier. The ceiling may have cracked with his presidency, but unfortunately, it still persists. The gap also expands to disparity in pay between the races for the same work. As just one example of this larger issue, even though approximately 70% of NFL players are black, this past football season, you could count on one hand how many head coaches were also black (3). Similarly the dearth of black head coaches leading college basketball teams was the subject of a cover story in the New York Times’ Sunday Sports section, as the percentages of black head coaches is at its lowest levels since the mid-1990s (see Rhoden, 2014). The glass ceiling is likely also fueling, at least in part, the next blatant disparity, which is the wealth gap.

Wealth Gap. Experts note that “'you can’t have a conversation about income inequality without talking about race. Black and brown people are significantly being left behind’” (Vega, 2014, para 3). In fact, a recent report published by The National Urban League released last week revealed that Hispanics are doing better than blacks when identifying rankings of inequality, and that blacks have the highest rates of unemployment—twice the number of whites (13.1%), and even larger than that of Hispanics, which is at 9.1% (Vega, 2014). Moreover, if the underemployed are tallied, the rates for blacks skyrocket to 20.5%. Perhaps most compelling of all, the report revealed that: “there were no cities where blacks fared better than whites in terms of income or employment. That was not true for Hispanics” (Vega, 2014, para 9).

Sobering facts that show beyond any doubt this country is nowhere near the “post-racial” progressive society that we would like to believe that it has become. There are certainly other areas within the culture that also indicate racial disparities, such as mental illness stigma, rates of obesity, general access to health care, death sentencing across the country, and even, shockingly, preschool suspensions, as recently reported (see Dalton, 2014). I invite my readers to identify those I have overlooked in the Comments section at their discretion.

Dalton, M. (2014). Report: Preschool Suspensions Show Racial Disparities. Atlanta’s NPR Station. Retrieved on April 6, 2014 from: http://wabe.org/post/report-preschool-suspensions-show-racial-disparities .

Parker-Pope, T. (2014). The Breast Cancer Racial Gap. The New York Times, Well Column. Retrieved on April 6, 2014 from: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/03/the-breast-cancer-racial-gap/?_... .

“Race & the Drug War” (n.d). Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved on April 6, 2014 from: http://www.drugpolicy.org/race-and-drug-war .

Rhoden, W.C. (2014).As Their Numbers Fall, College Basketball’s Black Coaches Face a Conundrum. The New York Times, Sports. Retrieved on April 6, 2014 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/sports/ncaabasketball/as-their-numbers... .

Vega, T. (2014). Report Finds Hispanics Faring Better Than Blacks. The New York Times. Retrieved on April 6, 2014 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/us/report-finds-hispanics-faring-bette... .

Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2014