America is in denial about race relations

The US urgently needs to address the widely varying ways people of different races experience life in the country. Otherwise it has no business calling itself the greatest nation on earth, writes DW’s Spencer Kimball.

Segregation officially ended half a century ago, but in many parts of the United States, black and white Americans are still living in two separate and unequal countries. We cross paths in public and sometimes in the work place. We’re polite, kind to each other, as strangers should be. But at the end of the day, we too often come from and return home to very different realities.

Take me for example. I grew up in a small Kentucky town, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, a mid-size city that’s about half white and half black. But in my town, you would have never known the population was split almost evenly between whites and blacks. There were only a few black kids at my high school. To this day, they live in other neighborhoods and attend other schools – where the opportunities are not the same.

I am from an ethnic enclave, a wealthy and privileged one. Even now as an adult, I have far too little exposure to blacks and their experience in America. It’s not like this everywhere in the country, but it’s still the case in too many places. It’s lack of contact with people of other races that plays a major role in explaining the widely varying views of race and the police that are visible across the nation – most recently in the case of Sandra Bland.

A 28-year-old black woman, Bland was pulled over in Texas for failing to use her turn signal. She was upset that she’d been pulled over, refused to leave her car, was threatened with being “lit up” by a Taser, forcibly removed and arrested. It’s on videotape. Bland was later found dead in her jail cell, an apparent suicide, according to authorities. There are reports that she suffered from depression and may have attempted suicide in the past. That information is still coming to light.

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A dream deferred? Race relations in the Obama era

Amid racial tension and violence, US President Barack Obama has addressed the oldest African-American civil rights organization in the US. For some, his increasingly frank talk about race is too little, too late.  Spencer Kimball reports.

It was the dream of the civil rights movement: a multiracial democracy where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many Americans were electrified. Had the dream come true?

The country has been sobered as the president nears the end of his eight-year tenure. More than 60 percent of Americans – black and white – believe race relations are generally bad, according to a recent CBS/New York Times opinion poll.

Police killings of unarmed African-American men have touched off a wave of social unrest. Peaceful protesters have taken to the streets with the rallying cry “Black lives matter!” Tensions have boiled over into riots and confrontations with a police force that often looks more like a military.

On Tuesday, Obama addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the second time since taking office. He proposed reforms to the American criminal justice system, such as reducing long mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes, which disproportionately impact people of color.

But many African-Americans believe the president has responded slowly to calls for reform and has not gone far enough, fast enough.

“The president has primarily only addressed or dealt with racial issues when he was absolutely forced to,” Ronnie Dunn, an urban studies professor at Cleveland State University, told DW. “There was a reluctance to candidly address such issues.”

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