WASHINGTON (AP) — Has the U.S. achieved Martin Luther King Jr.‘s dream of a colorblind society? Fewer than half of all Americans say the country has made substantial progress in the past 50 years toward racial equality, a new poll shows.
Despite a heightened sense of racial progress immediately following the 2008 election of the first black president, Americans’ views of black progress have waned.
The study, released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, offers a mixed picture of progress five decades after King made his historic “I Have a Dream” speech calling for racial equality. The center is a Washington-based research organization.
While large majorities of blacks and whites say the two races generally get along “very well” or “pretty well,” blacks continue to substantially lag whites when it comes to household income and net worth, and nearly 8 in 10 African-Americans say a lot of work remains to be done to reach racial equality.
Blacks are more likely than other race groups to say they have been discriminated against in the past year — 35 percent vs. 20 percent for Hispanics and 10 percent for whites — with majorities of blacks saying they are treated less fairly than whites in dealing with police, in the courts, in local public schools or on the job.
President Barack Obama’s 2008 election only temporarily boosted perceptions of progress for blacks. After initially rising across all races, the percentage saying blacks had gained ground in the last five years has dropped to levels last seen in 2007.
Only 1 in 4 African-Americans say the situation of black people is better now than five years ago, down from 39 percent in 2009. Among whites, it fell from 49 percent to 35 percent.
Overall, 49 percent of Americans say “a lot more” remains to be done to achieve racial equality. Among blacks, the share climbs to 79 percent, compared with 44 percent for whites and 48 percent for Hispanics.
“The public seems to be saying that we as a society are heading in the right direction, but we aren’t there yet,” said Pew senior editor Rich Morin. “Most Americans realize we have made at least some progress in the past 50 years, just as large majorities say that we need to do more to truly become a colorblind society.”
Howard University sociologist Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau, said waning perceptions of black progress since Obama’s election reflect a bit of a reality check. The recent recession also hit blacks hard, particularly in employment, he said.
The Pew report shows many recognize the economic hardship facing African-Americans. Overall, Americans are four times as likely to say the average black person is worse off than the average white person, though 41 percent say they are equally well off.
Recent analysis by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that confidence among African-Americans in Congress and the executive branch has dropped sharply since spiking in 2010, amid increasing political polarization and a divided government.