by Linda Jimenez
Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Diversity & Inclusion
A post-racial America refers to a society that has moved beyond racial preference, discrimination and prejudice. In the days following the last presidential election, Gallup reported that more than two-thirds of Americans viewed President Obama’s election as “either the most important advance for blacks in the past 100 years, or among the two or three most important such advances.” President Obama embodied the notion of a post-racial Americaan era in which the term civil rights should no longer be needed. After all, the election was proof that we had finally overcome discrimination in this country. Or was it?
[sws_pullquote_right]“Perhaps the gaps aren’t as wide as in years past, but they are still there.” [/sws_pullquote_right]
While we have had a remarkable journey during the past few years with respect to race, I agree with Attorney General Eric Holder that we remain “a nation of cowards” for not talking enough about racial tensions as he stated during the 2009 Department of Justice African American History Month program. In fact, many of the racial disparities noted in the National Urban League’s 2009 State of Black America remain—differences in public policy such as employment, housing, education, criminal justice and health. Perhaps the gaps aren’t as wide as in years past, but they are still there. The debate about race-based affirmative action highlights the fact that racial issues are still with us.
Some basic facts disprove the notion that America has entered a post-racial age. There are sizeable gaps between blacks, Hispanics and whites according to many socioeconomic measures. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports show that minorities still bear the brunt of economic hardship. Blacks and Hispanics are unemployed at a rate that is up to two times greater than that of whites. Young blacks have been especially hard hit by the economic downturn. Nearly a third between the ages of 18 and 24 are unemployed. According to a report released last year by a group of scholars led by Brandeis sociologist Thomas Shapiro, the black white wealth gap has quadrupled in the past 25 years.
Similarly, there are disparities in health and health treatment among Caucasians, African Americans and Hispanic Americans. For example, last year Cancer, an international publication of the American Cancer Society, published a study* conducted by Health Core demonstrating disparities in breast cancer treatment between commercially insured African-American and white women. The study found that African-American women were generally diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age, but in later stages of cancer, when chances of survival are much lower. In addition, minorities face more difficulties in communicating with physicians than whites, according to The Commonwealth Fund 2001 Health Care Quality Survey. Thirty-three percent of Hispanics reported having communication issues with their physicians, compared with 16 percent of whites.
So, are we in a post-racial America? The historic presidency of Barack Obama certainly brings us a step closer to that ideal. But there remain significant disparities in unemployment, health care, education and housing, among others, which offer a different picture. We must recognize not only what has changed in the Obama era, but just as importantly, what has not.
Linda Jimenez is a native of San Antonio, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin where she received her B.A. with honors. She is also a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law and has spent 20 years specializing in labor and employment law.