Four hundred years ago this summer, colonial America’s first representative assembly was convened in Jamestown. That event launched a noble tradition that grew to become America’s founding ideals of freedom, equality, and self-governance.
However, that noble beginning was challenged right from the start. Just a few weeks after the legislators gathered, the first enslaved people were brought to Jamestown and sold. That was the start of a shameful tradition that grew to embrace centuries of slavery and legalized racism against black Americans.
These two strands of our history—one positive and one negative—have competed and interacted to define America ever since.
The competition led to a Civil War that nearly tore the nation apart. Yet, while the union survived the war, the underlying tension between the competing strands of our history continued.
A century after that war, the United States was blessed when a Baptist preacher—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.– challenged our nation to live up to its noble ideals. He eloquently cited the promises made in our nation’s founding document and claimed them for all Americans, not just white Americans. Because he forced Americans to face the conflict between the competing strands of our history, King lost his life. But, the progress he launched made the U.S. a better nation.
Now, however, 53% of voters believe race relations in America are getting worse. A ScottRasmussen.com national survey found that just 26% believe things are improving while 21% are not sure.
As with just about everything in the political realm today, there is a wide partisan divide on this question. A narrow plurality of Republicans believe race relations are getting better while most Democrats and Independent voters believe they are getting worse.
Beneath the surface of those depressing numbers is an even more troubling disagreement about the underlying problem. Forty-four percent (44%) of Republican voters believe whites are the racial/ethnic group that is most discriminated against in the United States today. Just 24% of GOP voters believe blacks face the most discrimination while 15% name Hispanics.
Among Democrats, 67% believe blacks are the most discriminated against, 16% say Hispanics, and just 11% whites. Among Independent voters, 37% believe blacks face the most discrimination, 24% say Hispanics, and 23% whites.
Looking at the divide along racial lines, white voters today are evenly divided as to whether whites or blacks are most discriminated against. Persons of color strongly reject the view that white Americans suffer the most discrimination.
The glaring racial divide can be found on issue after issue today and voters recognize the threat that represents. Just 24% believe it is possible to have a healthy democracy if policy disagreements fall on entirely racial lines.
My latest book–The Sun Is Still Rising: Politics Has Failed, But America Will Not—celebrates our nation’s noble founding ideals. It brims with the optimism that comes from knowing the culture leads while politicians lag behind. But it also recognizes that, throughout our history, some have blatantly twisted the rhetoric of those founding ideals to further the sordid legacy of racism.
It is time for that to end. If we want to ensure a bright future for our nation, the shameful strand of our history must die so that the noble strand can flourish.