Really. That’s the question that I’m asking myself right now.
Why? Because I just read that a CNN poll from last week found that 69 percent of blacks in America currently believe that MLK’s vision “has been fulfilled.” This is quantum levels of optimism beyond a mere majority. Say what? Black people? You mean the very people who for as long as we’ve been doing opinion polls have been the quintessential pessimists? Yes…those people.
I know you’re thinking that if black people are so effusive, then white people must practically unanimously agree that we have reached the promise land. And in this case, you would be wrong…because only 46 percent of them do.
Yes, we have suddenly turned the world upside down.
Let me give you some context. When asked if this country had fulfilled Martin Luther King’s vision in March 2008, the poll numbers were as unnewsworthy as they were predictable: 34 percent of black respondents said “yes,” compared with 35 percent of white respondents. If we go back several years, before Barack Obama entered the public limelight, those numbers were more like 20 percent for blacks and 40 percent for whites.
This just might be the first time ever in our history that African Americans are more optimistic than white Americans with respect to the position of black people in the United States racial hierarchy.
OK, so what’s going on? That’s what I want to know. What’s this mean?
I have a few thoughts. Black people are riding a spiritual high that crescendoed right after the election when, for the first time ever, a majority said that we would eventually find a solution to our race conundrum. And now on the eve of a (half) black president, the glee is too much to contain. Sure, the enthusiasm will wane, but for the moment how can the world not look rosy and cheerful — as long as people with brown skin refrain from riding the subway in Oakland. (OK, I’m being cynical here; I’ll return to that story in a future posting.)
The white celebrations, by contrast, do not have the momentum of 400 years of mistreatment and second (or third) class citizenship. Maybe white people are feeling a bit nervous about having their racial universe turned on its head. Sure, there are positives to the transformation — like the prospect of being able to have normalized relationships and straightforward conversations with black and brown people. But on the negative side, there is a visible crack in the foundation of white privilege and I can only imagine that it’s weakening the support beams holding up the house of normal — and white people are feeling the stress.
But really, I feel like I’m shooting plastic ducks floating past at one of those midway stands at a carnival — and it’s highly unlikely that I’ve tagged the one with the star on the bottom. In other words, I’m at a loss on this one. Someone tell me what these poll numbers mean.