More Black Americans think race relations are generally bad than at any time since the Rodney King rebellion in Los Angeles, a generation ago. Whites feel pretty much the same way, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.
Sixty-eight percent of Black people today believe race relations are bad, substantially more than the 59 percent negative recorded when Barack Obama was presenting himself as a candidate for president, back in 2008. The great dip in the statistics (or peak, depending on one's perspective), was registered in 2009, the year of Black euphoria that began with Obama's inauguration. By April of 2009, only 30 percent of Blacks told pollsters they saw race relations in a generally bad light. Half of Blacks' negative perceptions on race disappeared the moment a Black family set up residence in the White House.
I don't pretend to understand what white Americans generally mean by "bad" or "good" race relations -- except that it is certainly very different than what Black Americans mean, when using the same terminology. I suspect that most whites think relations are "good" when they don't have to hear Black people complaining too loudly. The perceptions of the people at the receiving end of racial oppression are usually more reflective of racial realities than the impressions of members of the dominant/oppressor group, who in all cultures minimize the degree of harm inflicted by their group. However, the oppressed are also quite subjective in their analyses of conditions. They hope against hope, or are overcome by despair -- emotional swings directly related to their perception of the forces allied with, or against, them.
The polls show two recent periods of great volatility in Black perceptions of the general racial climate: the soaring euphoria of 2009, whose effects continued through 2010; and the dramatic year-long rise in Black discontent (translated in polls as pessimism on race relations) that began in August, 2014, when Ferguson, Missouri, rebelled against the police killing of Michael Brown. In between, we see a slow but steady erosion of Black perceptions of "good" race relations beginning in 2012, the year Trayvon Martin was gunned down in Florida, when Blacks' negative ratings on race climbed above the 40 percent level for the first time since Obama took office.
Percentage of Blacks that viewed race relations as generally bad, according to New York Times/CBS News poll:
Jul, 2008, 59
Apr, 2009, 30
Jan, 2012, 37
Aug, 2012, 41
Apr, 2014, 46
Aug, 2014, 48
Dec, 2014, 54
Feb, 2015, 58
Apr, 2015, 65
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