The number of Americans who identify racism or race relations as the nation’s top problem increased dramatically to 13 percent, according to a new Gallup survey, a figure not seen since the Rodney King verdict and subsequent Los Angeles riots in 1992.
In November, only 1 percent of Americans cited racism or race relations as the biggest problem. The rise comes on the heels of several controversial incidents in Cleveland; Ferguson, Missouri; and Staten Island, New York, in which unarmed black men were killed by police officers. Earlier this month, protesters marched across the country, including thousands in the nation’s capital, to call for justice and decry racial discrimination.
The Gallup poll showed that the number of Americans naming race as the country’s most important problem pales in comparison to the numbers seen during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, which makes sense. But the surge in concern is noteworthy when you consider that in September, just weeks after the Ferguson protests dominated the news cycle, only 3 percent of Americans said race was a key issue. Since the Rodney King riots of 1992, when 15 percent of Americans said race was the country’s top issue, that number has never topped 5 percent, Gallup says.
According to the poll results, nonwhites are now more than twice as likely as whites to view racial issues as the nation’s top problem, 22 percent to 9 percent. In concurrent surveys, Gallup has also found recent drops in nonwhites’ confidence in police to protect them as well as nonwhites’ ratings of the honesty and ethical standards of police officers.
Even more stunning, however, is that the topic of racism or race relations now “matches the economy in Americans’ mentions of the country’s top problem.” Government still tops the list, though it dropped slightly, and the percent of people who identified unemployment or the economy as the most important problem also decreased — a sign of an accelerating economic recovery.
Never missing a chance to politicize anything and everything, some Republicans have attributed the sentiment to the nation’s first black president. Conservative darling Ben Carson, who is considering a run for the White House in 2016, said last month that race relations in the United States have actually gotten worse under the Obama administration, and that the President is to blame.
“I actually believe that things were better before this president was elected. And I think that things have gotten worse because of his unusual emphasis on race,” Carson said.
Others, however, have rightly pointed out that Carson’s accusation doesn’t hold much weight when put in a historical context. In a recent column for the Huffington Post, Dr. Christoper Lamb, a professor of journalism at the
In reality, race relations haven’t worsened under Obama. It perhaps only seems that way to some people. Obama’s skin color has forced them to confront racism — America’s original sin, which was delivered with the slave ships in the 17th century.