In some ways, we’ve never talked more about race in America. Forty years after Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down on a motel balcony in Memphis by a white racist, the emergence of the first African-American presidential candidate with a very real chance of winning the White House has pushed the subject into the middle of our political conversation.
We’ve heard commentators speculate about whether Barack Obama, the biracial son of a Kenyan father and white mother from Kansas, is “black enough” to appeal to African-American voters, or too black to appeal to whites in middle America. (So far voters of both types seem to have answered those questions pretty decisively.) We’ve seen the allegiances of African-American women torn between the prospect of the first black and the first female president. We’ve had an endless virtual town hall in the media about what words do and don’t constitute racist slurs and innuendos on the airwaves, from the easy- to-condemn (“nappy-headed hos”) to the more subtle and debatable (“articulate,” “fairy tale”).
But in other ways, we’re not talking nearly enough about race — or its more uncomfortable realities.
Despite Obama’s presence in the race, there has been virtually no debate in this campaign about how to tackle the crisis of inner-city black men, millions of whom are locked in a vicious cycle of criminality and incarceration.
When the most conservative Supreme Court we’ve had in decades recently found that the mandatory drug sentences keeping so many young blacks in jail are unfairly restrictive and punitive, it has got only cursory attention.
For all the analysis of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, we’ve heard relatively little about how and why it has claimed a disproportionate percentage of black victims.
And although Hispanics have now surpassed blacks as America’s largest minority, we’ve seen far more heat about the outrages of illegal immigration than light about how illegal immigrants contribute to the economy and society once they get here, and how to better integrate them rather than insisting or hoping that they go home.
So as we prepare to honor Dr. King’s sacrifice, how much better has life really gotten for African-Americans and other people of color in America? How do wealth, geography, gender and generational differences shape responses to that question? Has the quality and tone of our dialogue about race improved, or only gotten louder and more incessant? Does the news media, with all its imperfections, do a reasonable job of covering the changing landscape, or does it still fall all too easily for tired story lines, easy clichés and predictable talking heads?
What gives you cause for hope — or despair — when it comes to race in America? As part of our continuing Gut Check America series, we want to hear how the issue plays out in your town or community. Use the submission form below to share your experience and, if you choose, submit photos or video that illustrates your story. If you want to submit photos or video a cell phone, you also can send photos and video to firstname.lastname@example.org (please include your name and whereabouts for verification).
We’ll publish some of your best responses in April.