How a New Study on Race Relations Echoes LBJ’s 1968 Kerner Report
How a New Study on Race Relations Echoes LBJ’s 1968 Kerner Report

Blacks and whites in America are “worlds apart,” on race relations, says a new Pew Research study.

The study has an eerily familiar tone to a report made almost 50 years ago. 

The 1967 Kerner Report, published just a few years after the Civil Rights Act, concluded: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.

“Discrimination and segrega­tion have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American,” the Kerner report said.

Sociology professor Vilna Bashi Treitler said race relations in America have not changed since the Kerner Report—despite the first black president being elected. 

“[Obama] has had more death threats than any other president,” said Treitler, who works in the department of black and Latino studies at Baruch College and in the sociology program at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Obama has received “obvious disdain and disrespect,” said Treitler, even though the majority of Americans give Obama credit for at least trying to better race relations.

But, 25 percent say he has made things worse, the Pew Research Center said in the report released June 27.

Obama as the first black president is not enough to change racial tensions, and he can’t single handedly eradicate racism, said Treitler.

“[There is] nothing only one person can do to stop this problem,” she said. “No speech would’ve done it, no social program.”

Congress wouldn’t have allowed for social programs to pass, Treitler said.

Change Needs to Continue

In the study, an overwhelmingly majority of blacks, 88 percent, say the country needs to continue in making changes for African-Americans to have equal rights with whites, while 43 percent are skeptical those steps towards racial equality will take place.

Meanwhile, whites varied on the state of race relations, with 46 percent saying they are good overall, while 45 percent say they are bad. Blacks were less optimistic, with 61 percent saying race relations are bad.

Treitler said whites have a problem “understanding race based disparities,” but some college-educated whites do learn about racism.

“White people don’t tend to get stopped or killed at a traffic stop. We have riots because people died from traffic stops,” she said. “Police killing doesn’t happen to white people. Whites don’t learn about it because they don’t experience it.”

A majority of blacks, 71 percent, say they had experienced discrimination or were treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity. Less than one in ten say it happens to them on a regular basis. Nearly 30 percent of whites said they had been discriminated because of their race or ethnicity, two percent said it happened regularly.

Meanwhile, 31 percent of whites say their race has made it easier for them to succeed in life, while 62 percent said it did not make difference.

As for blacks, only 8 percent of them said being black made it easier, while 40 percent say being African-American has made it harder for them, while nearly half of blacks said it didn’t make a difference.

Income Gaps

Although the poverty rate among African-Americans has decreased significantly since the mid-1980s, blacks are still more than twice as likely as whites to be living in poverty, the study shows.

In 2014, the median adjusted income for households headed by blacks was $43,300, and for whites it was $71,300, data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows.

African-Americans are behind whites in college degrees. And blacks who had completed college earned less than whites in 2014. Black households headed by a college educated African-American made $82,300, compared with $106,000 for white households. 

The household wealth racial gap has widened since the Great Recession. 

African-Americans were also subject to predatory lending during the economic meltdown, Treitler says.

“Predatory lending banks made money on discriminating against and exploiting black people,” she said. Black people also face job discrimination and low pay, she said. Black women get 67 cents out of a dollar compared with white men on average.

A man holds a sign during a civil disobedience action on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 10, 2015. US police made numerous arrests during a tense night-time standoff in Ferguson on August 10, after St. Louis County declared a state of emergency and a teenager was charged with shooting at police officers. Protests came after unrest and a shootout in Ferguson on August 9 night that led county officials to declare a state of emergency on August 10.     AFP PHOTO / MICHAEL B. THOMAS        (Photo credit should read Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds a sign during a civil disobedience action on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 10, 2015. Protests occurred after unrest and a shootout in Ferguson on August 9 that led county officials to declare a state of emergency on August 10. (Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)

Black Lives Matter Movement

The majority of African Americans, 65 percent, support the Black Lives Matter movement. The study says 41 percent of blacks strongly support the campaign, while 24 percent say they somewhat support it, and 12 percent of blacks say they do not support it.

Forty percent of whites say they somewhat or strongly support the Black Lives Matter campaign, with 14 percent saying they strongly support it.

Echo From the Past

Treitler noted the riots occurring these days are similar to those that took place in 1967.

“Fifty years later, we’re almost in the exact same position,” said Treitler. “There are many similarities.”

After the 1967 riots, President Lyndon B. Johnson established an 11-member advisory committee to investigate the incidents. The report, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (The Kerner Report), was completed just a few years after the Civil Rights Act.

 

“This deepening racial division is not inevitable,” the Kerner Report said.

** FILE ** A National Guardsman moves a man towards the wall as police search others in riot-torn Newark, N.J., in this July 15, 1967, file photo. It wasn't known why the group was stopped and searched. None were arrested. Sniper fire continued through the evening in the fourth night of racial rioting. The 40th anniversary of the riots that devastated Newark has rekindled a sometimes acrimonious debate on the causes and effects of the events of July 1967 that sent the city on a downward spiral from which it took decades to recover. (AP Photo)
FILE – A National Guardsman moves a man towards the wall as police search others in riot-torn Newark, N.J., in this July 15, 1967, file photo. (AP Photo)

The tense relationship between police and non-whites was also highlighted in the Kerner Report.

“The abrasive relationship between the police and the minor­ity communities has been a major-and explosive-source of grievance, tension and disorder,” said the report.

“The blame must be shared by the total society.”

Future

Treitler doesn’t see racism going away soon, especially with rising xenophobia and anti-immigrant views.

“Racial relations won’t get better,” she said, “Racists won’t do better themselves, how is it supposed to disappear?”

“We’re in the same spot as 1967.”

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