Americans Are Finally Admitting We Have a Race Problem

Black and white Americans think our race relations are getting worse.
A crowd gathers at Baltimore's City Hall in protest on May 4. (Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters)
May 5, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Acknowledging a problem is often viewed as the first step to recovery. So Americans appear to be on the right path.

A new poll from The New York Times and CBS News found increasing pessimism among black and white respondents about race relations in the U.S. Some 61 percent of respondents said race relations in America are “generally bad”—up almost 20 percent from a similar poll taken last December. The starkest rise in negative perception of race relations was found among whites.

The poll, conducted last Thursday through Sunday, comes on the heels of the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who mysteriously died after being taken into custody by Baltimore police. Gray’s death triggered days of protests and renewed an often painful national conversation about persistent racism, inequality, and our troubled criminal justice system.

In a Yougov/Huffington Post poll released last week, white respondents said they are increasingly likely to see deaths like Gray’s as part of a larger pattern in the way police treat black men rather than an isolated incident. The results marked a shift from an earlier poll in which participants were asked the same question about Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri.

The research suggests that Americans have arrived at a new awakening about the persistent race problem. Just last week, Hillary Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate, delivered an unusual speech at Columbia University in which she called for reforms to a criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts young black and Latino men. “We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” she said.

On Monday, President Obama unveiled an extension of My Brother’s Keeper, his initiative to empower young black and Latino men. In his speech announcing the initiative, President Obama reminded the audience about the numbers stacked against communities of color: “In too many places in this country, black boys and black men, Latino boys, Latino men, they experience being treated differently by law enforcement—in stops and in arrests, and in charges and incarcerations.”