In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. appeared on a BBC news show. The host asked King about Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s prediction, an audacious one at the time, that a black man could be elected president in 40 years.
King thought it would not take that long: “There are certain problems and prejudices and mores in our society which make it difficult now. However, I am very optimistic about the future. Frankly, I have seen certain changes in the United States over the last two years that surprise me. … On the basis of this, I think we may be able to get a Negro president in less than 40 years. I would think that this could come in 25 years or less.”
It took 44 years.
First, the election of a black person did not bring about the expected “hope and change.” In fact, the percentage of blacks living in poverty increased under Obama. Shortly before Obama’s election, a supporter at a campaign rally named Peggy Joseph famously gushed about what an Obama victory would mean: “I wouldn’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I wouldn’t have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know — if I help him, he’ll help me.” Well, guess what. Barbara Bush was right when she said, “Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens at the White House but on what happens inside your house.”
In 1992, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics examined the 75 most populous counties. Turns out the jury isless likely to convict a black defendant of a felony than a white defendant. The study found that “in 12 of the 14 types of crimes (felonies including murder, rape and other serious crimes) for which data was collected, the conviction rate for blacks is lower than that of whites.” Similarly, in 2013, the National Institute of Justice, the research and evaluation agency of the DOJ, published their study of whether the police, as a result of racial bias, stop blacks more than other drivers. The conclusion? Any racial disparity in traffic stops is due to “differences in offending” in addition to “differences in exposure to the police” and “differences in driving patterns.”
My uncle Eddie, a barber in Chattanooga, Tennessee, immersed himself in local Republican politics. He died 20 years before Obama got elected. He would’ve been stunned that the country of segregation in which he was born could evolve so that his nephew would see the election of a black president. But he would likely have been even more astonished at how quickly Martin Luther King’s dream of a colorblind society has turned into a quest to purge the town square of Confederate statues. He would have been shocked that a group called Black Lives Matter, given credibility by the Obama administration, issued a “list of demands” of white people.
In eight years, we’ve gone from the election of the first black president to a call for campus “safe spaces” to combat alleged racist “microaggressions.” Uncle Eddie would have called this moving the goal post.