This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In the century and a half that has passed since Abraham Lincoln issued this seminal statement regarding the status of African Americans in our country, America has also passed the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, outlawed Jim Crow laws, and passed the Voting Rights Act. Yet after the immense progress made in righting many of the wrongs littered throughout America’s past, what is the state of race relations today? Are we living in a post-racial society?
It should be stated at the outset that every society in history has experienced conflict and tension between different people and group. To assume perfect interracial harmony is even possible is unrealistic. So the short answer to the question posed in this article is, No, we are not living in a post-racial society. But I believe it is worthwhile to delve further into the status of race relations in our country to understandwhy exactly this is so.
Perhaps the single most talked about event in our society today related to race relations is the death of Trayvon Martin and the case surrounding it. Regardless of one’s opinion on the merits of the case and its outcome, the Trayvon Martin case was consequential because it exposed how potent racial tensions still are in our “progressive” society. Commentators from newsrooms to living rooms argued over whether or not George Zimmerman would have acted as he did were Trayvon Martin white. Many Americans criticized the whole affair, saying Trayvon’s skin color was the real reason George Zimmerman felt threatened, and thus that the shooting was an act of violent racism. Others argued that skin color had nothing to do with it. Regardless of one’s position, the incessant resorting to race-centered arguments exposes how ubiquitous racial tension still is in our country.
Few would question the fact that race relations in America have improved in the last century. Based on everything from public approval of interracial marriage to self-scored life satisfaction surveys, America appears to be moving in the right direction. The election of America’s first black president has had a notable, positive effect on Americans' perception of race in America. Yet racial tension in America has by no means dissipated. Many would argue that our country’s noble obsession with righting racial wrongs in our past has resulted in a swing of the racial pendulum in the opposite direction. This opposite effect is most often referenced in the realm of college admittance. Most recently, the Fisher vs. Texas case brought the issue of affirmative action back into the spotlight. The Supreme Court’s decision to send the case back to the Fifth Circuit highlights the major problem at the heart of race relations in America: the tension between repairing historical injustices that have lingering, negative effects on American society today, while doing so in a tempered, appropriate way that does not unintentionally hurt other segments of that same society.
Our nation has been healing, but it has not yet healed from the wounds of our past. This process is one fraught with danger and challenges. America’s intimate acquaintance with the inhumane treatment of fellow citizens because of skin color forces the issue of race into the collective consciousness of Americans. America’s history coupled with the extreme ethnic pluralism that has defined the country's short existence means that the issue of race relations will never disappear completely. But as we continue toward true equality — in other words, towards a society that's as post-racial as humanly possible — we should consider the words of Lincoln in his famed proclamation and “invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.”