- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Just when Americans began to tune out the cacophony of news headlines and tune in the summer season of family, friends and relaxation, the nagging issue of race resurfaced. No matter one’s skin color, it’s “Here we go again.” It has been 18 months since the nation’s first African-American president assumed office, placing race under a microscope. A question continues to torment the national psyche like the stifling heat of July: Are we gaining or losing ground in the quest for a post-racial society? The relentless scroll of worrisome headlines raises doubts, but a telescopic view over time that recognizes historic growth of interracial and interethnic marriage suggests a reason for optimism. First, the microscope:

On July 19, it was the case of Shirley Sherrod, the black Department of Agriculture official who drew gasps across the nation when a videotape aired in which she told a cheering NAACP audience in Georgia of an occasion when she had withheld assistance to a poor white farmer about to lose his land. She was forced to resign, apparently with pressure from the White House. But on July 21, she was offered a new job, and the following day, she received an apologetic phone call from President Obama when it became clear that her comments had been taken out of context.

The week before, it was the NAACP itself drawing fire for issuing a statement accusing the Tea Party movement of failing to expunge racists within its ranks. Earlier this month, a former Justice Department voting rights lawyer told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights investigating a New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case that a Justice official had announced that civil rights laws would not be enforced to protect white voters.

The cumulative effect of this string of race-related incidents has taken a toll on the public’s view of the president’s performance. Recent poll results indicate that Mr. Obama has managed to alienate a large portion of white voters who were responsible for putting him in the White House. A CNN Opinion Poll released Thursday showed that Mr. Obama’s approval rating among whites has fallen from 56 percent in April 2009 to 37 percent in July 2010. In contrast, his approval among blacks has diminished just five points, from 98 percent to 93 percent.

Now for the telescope: The view of race in America over a much longer time period reveals progress toward racial unity and reason for optimism about future race relations.

At the time of America’s founding, racial equality was observed in the breach and slavery constituted an ugly stain upon the principles touted in the Declaration of Independence. Still, as Matthew Spalding points out in his book “We Still Hold These Truths” (ISI Books, 2009), “those who founded this nation established in principle a country dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. The principle necessary to destroy slavery was the cornerstone of the new nation.”

Those high-minded principles provided little comfort to slavery’s victims of that era, but generations later, they bore fruit with the end of the so-called “peculiar institution” following the Civil War. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream of a colorblind society a century later, and the nation adopted that vision as a guiding star.

Today, racial accord is rising in an institution that indicates reconciliation at the deepest level: interracial and interethnic marriage. Americans who take a marriage vow to seek unity 24/7, year in and year out, decade after decade, are the real leaders in the quest for reconciliation, not the pontificating politicos.

According to the Pew Research Center’s study “Marrying Out,” published in June, marriages of black-and-white couples accounted for fewer than one in 1,000 new marriages in 1960. In 1980, the figure had risen to one in 150 new marriages. By 2008, the number had risen to one in 60.

As recently as 1987, the report says, just 48 percent of Americans said it was “OK for whites and blacks to date each other.” By 2009, the proportion had risen to 83 percent.

The proportion of new marriages in the U.S. between spouses of different races or ethnicities more than doubled between 1980 and 2008, from 6.7 percent to 14.6 percent. All told, in 2008, 9 percent of whites, 16 percent of blacks, 26 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of Asians married someone of a different race or ethnicity, the report says.

Although still small, the proportion of interracial unions is rising rapidly. The speedy shift in attitudes about dating is likely to accelerate the phenomenon further.

America is moving toward a post-racial state, but progress cannot simply be equated with the election of a black president. As Hoover Institution scholar Thomas Sowell observed in National Review Online, “Among people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, those who are likely to be most disappointed are those who thought that they were voting for a new post-racial era.” While the media spotlight Mr. Obama as a symbol of racial progress, the divisive nature of his administration reveals the limits of using politics to promote reconciliation.

A more fundamental measure of attitudes about race is one that is happening one heart at a time. The rise in mixed-race couples is only the most obvious evidence of many more changed hearts. So, while news outlets chatter on about troubles in race relations, the difficult trek toward a truly post-racial society continues quietly and relentlessly within the family. Those men and women who have made the commitment to racial reconciliation through their marriages are the real pioneers of a post-racial America. They deserve the nation’s gratitude.

Frank Perley is senior editor for opinion for The Washington Times.



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