In November 2008 Barack Obama opened his Presidential acceptance speech with the message ‘If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.’ The election of a man of mixed racial heritage to the job regarded to be the most powerful in the country should have been the moment that America broke down the last barriers of racial discrimination. America should have finally become the country it always wanted to be, in which ‘all things are possible’ for all individuals, regardless of one’s racial heritage.
A recent study conducted by Harvard Business School and Tufts University suggests that Obama’s victory has not pushed America into an era devoid of racial prejudice. According to the study, racial discrimination has emerged in another form. The pendulum of discrimination has swung in the other direction, as the study proposes that it is the white majority population that now feels effected by racial bias. Approximately 200 white and 200 black people were randomly selected from a national census and asked to rate racist attitudes against blacks and whites in every decade from 1950 onwards. Eleven per cent of white respondents gave the current level of anti-white racism the maximum rating of ten points. The authors of the study point towards an issue of ‘severe legal and social controversies’ creating a form of ‘reverse racism’.
Affirmative action appears to be playing a crucial role in engendering these feelings amongst the white population. Affirmative action originated in the 1960s as a way of forcing employers to ensure they did not discriminate against applicants on the basis of race, creed, colour or national origin.
Some whites feel they are now at a disadvantage when applying for jobs as employers go out of their way to fulfil a secret quota of employees representing ethnic minorities. Whites also feel discriminated against when applying for educational institutions, as demonstrated in the case of Fisher vs University of Texas. Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz, both white, applied to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, and were denied admission. They claim the university discriminated against them because of their race, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. The supposed anti-white bias has created an America not compatible with the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims ‘all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ A society that continues to give advantages to individuals based on race undermines the Founding Fathers commitment to equality. Many whites feel America’s cherished individualism has lost out to political correctness.
The facts and figures regarding the socio-economic position of black people suggests the supposed anti-white bias has not produced an imminent threat to the white population’s position as the wealthiest ethnic group in the States. Currently the black unemployment rate is almost double the employment rate of the white population, with 14.1% of blacks unemployed compared with 7.4% of whites. Things do not look to be improving for the black community, as the racial gap – having narrowed between 2005 and 2009 – has once again widened following the recession’s June 2009 end. Analysis of Census Bureau data by Sentier Research has revealed that in the past three years the median annual income of black households has fallen by 11.1%, which is over double the 5.2% inflation-adjusted decline experienced by white households.
America’s complex history as an ethnic melting pot has left many wounds unhealed. As the authors of the study suggest, America is still struggling to reach a ‘post-racial’ era. The media’s rhetoric continues to focus heavily on race, with Obama unable to shake the tag line of America’s first black President. It will take many more Presidents from ethnic minority groups for the novelty to wear off, and many more years of socio-economic development amongst America’s poorer ethnic minority groups to ensure race disappears as a means for judging the merit of an individual.
Published in the University of Bristol student newspaper, The Epigram, February 2013