Despite Obama’s Entreaties, Americans Still Split Over Race

America’s unfinished project?
Bele (Frank Gorshin), Star Trek, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”

Surprise, surprise: Even with Barack Obama’s pleas against “divisiveness” and affirmations that we are “one people,” a New York Times/CBS News poll reveals what everybody, especially Black people, knows: The needle hasn’t been budged an inch, and Americans, white and non-white, still see the issue of race in an almost opposing way.

The survey suggests that even as the nation crosses a racial threshold when it comes to politics — Mr. Obama, a Democrat, is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — many of the racial patterns in society remain unchanged in recent years.

Indeed, the poll showed markedly little change in the racial components of people’s daily lives since 2000, when The Times examined race relations in an extensive series of articles called “How Race Is Lived in America.”

As it was eight years ago, few Americans have regular contact with people of other races, and few say their own workplaces or their own neighborhoods are integrated. In this latest poll, over 40 percent of blacks said they believed they had been stopped by the police because of their race, the same figure as eight years ago; 7 percent of whites said the same thing.

Nearly 70 percent of blacks said they had encountered a specific instance of discrimination based on their race, compared with 62 percent in 2000; 26 percent of whites said they had been the victim of racial discrimination. (Over 50 percent of Hispanics said they had been the victim of racial discrimination.)

And when asked whether blacks or whites had a better chance of getting ahead in today’s society, 64 percent of black respondents said that whites did. That figure was slightly higher even than the 57 percent of blacks who said so in a 2000 poll by The Times. And the number of blacks who described racial conditions as generally bad in this survey was almost identical to poll responses in 2000 and 1990.

“Basically it’s the same old problem, the desire for power,” Macie Mitchell, a Pennsylvania Democrat from Erie County, who is black, said in a follow-up interview after participating in the poll. “People get so obsessed with power and don’t want to share it. There are people who are not used to blacks being on top.”

The questions this raises for me are these: If the numbers are accurate, are Obama’s numbers different? If not, to what degree does his campaign count on something else, than what apparently exists, taking place in the country?

There was even racial dissension over Mr. Obama’s wife, Michelle: She was viewed favorably by 58 percent of black voters, compared with 24 percent of white voters.

Keep hope alive, Obama. Keep hope alive.




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