“After the civil rights movement (1950s and 60s), race dropped down the news agenda. But changes in legislation and court rulings were not matched by conditions on the ground. There were improvements for some in education and employment, but life was not visibly different for the bulk of the African-Americans”.
In too many major cities, segregation has remained a reality. Even Washington DC, where politicians spoke grandly of freedom, equality and tolerance, remained deeply divided. It is America’s dirty little secret. And now a flurry of deadly cases has inflamed racial tensions, bringing back memories of the 1950s and 60s. And with no end in sight, until America tackles the underlying causes. It is a terrifyingly huge challenge, dodged for too long. First, there is the segregation in the cities. Second, vast inequality: in Detroit, 10% of white people live in poverty, but 33% of black people. And third, the country’s stubborn attachment to guns. Last month’s Pew Centre survey on attitudes towards race in the US highlights the gulf in views. 88% of blacks said the country needed changes for blacks to have equal rights with whites, with 43% sceptical that such changes would ever occur. Only 53% of whites said the US still had work to do, and only 11% expressed such scepticism. A White House led by Hillary Clinton offers a better chance of at least attempting change than one led by Donald Trump. The question is whether, against a backdrop of austerity, she has the courage to devote the billions that would be needed to make a start in addressing inequality. On guns, she has said that as President she would seek reforms. President Obama has said: “When people say ‘black lives matter’, it doesn’t mean that blue lives don’t matter. But right now, the data shows that black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents.” The imperative for America is to transform that “data”, tackle problems shamefully ignored after the civil rights movement, and end a centuries-old racial divide.