WSJ Opinion: Race Relations in America Are Better Than Ever
You wouldn’t know it from recent headlines, but there’s good news about race in the U.S. today. The pessimism peddled on the left by pundits and elected officials is in the service of an ideological agenda, and it’s probably doing more real harm to race relations than any actual racism.
A big part of the problem is that the political press has never come to grips with Donald Trump’s election in 2016. The media didn’t anticipate it, refused to accept it, and have been willfully misinterpreting the reasons for it. Their preferred narrative is that racists, sexists and xenophobes put Mr. Trump in the White House, thus demonstrating that hatred and bigotry in the U.S. are ascendant. But is it true?
First, it’s worth clarifying (yet again) that former supporters of Barack Obama, not white nationalists, were the voters responsible for Mr. Trump’s election. Only occasionally did the establishment media acknowledge this in its reporting. “It’s clear that large numbers of white, working-class voters shifted from the Democrats to Mr. Trump,” reads a New York Times dispatch from 2017. “He flipped millions of white working-class Obama supporters to his side. The voter file data makes it impossible to avoid this conclusion.”
If journalists haven’t avoided this conclusion entirely, they’ve spent far more time pushing an alternative explanation that cites supposed racial retrenchment in the U.S. as the main driver of Mr. Trump’s political success. The fruits of this effort are laid bare by political scientist Eric Kaufmann in a compelling new report from the Manhattan Institute. Using survey data, Mr. Kaufmann notes that racial attitudes have been trending toward more tolerance for well over half a century, even as black politicians (Mr. Obama, Kamala Harris), professional polemicists (Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi ) and major media organs (the New York Times’s “1619 Project”) continue to insist otherwise.
According to Mr. Kaufmann, “at a time when measures of racist attitudes and behavior have never been more positive, pessimism about racism and race relations has increased in America.” Terms like “systemic racism” and “unconscious bias” are increasingly common, but white racist views have been in steady decline, whether with regard to having black co-workers, classmates or neighbors.
Intermarriage trend lines also undermine the notion that racial bigotry in America is a growing problem. “Approval of black-white intermarriage rose among whites from around 4% in 1958 to 45% in 1995 and 84% in 2013,” Mr. Kaufmann writes. “In 2017, fewer than 10% of whites in a major Pew survey said that interracial marriage was a ‘bad thing,’ ” and the “actual share of intermarried newlyweds rose from 3% in 1967 to 17% in 2015.” In fact, intermarriages involving Asians, Hispanics and Jews have all risen sharply over the decades, yet progressive intellectuals want to lecture the rest of us on how to be “antiracist.”
What explains the wide perception of racial retrogression at a time when surveys show that racial attitudes and behaviors have never been better? Mr. Kaufmann cites ideology, partisanship and the media’s ability “to frame events and social trends.” The political left has a stake in overstating both the existence and effects of racism so that it can advocate for more and bigger programs to combat it. And the media has long been willing to do the left’s ideological bidding. Social media allows for wide publicity of statistically rare incidents that are in reality getting even rarer, giving the impression that isolated and infrequent events “happen all the time.”
This research goes a long way toward explaining last summer’s street protests and why the nation was on pins and needles last week while awaiting the George Floyd verdict. The media has fed the public a story line about race and policing that serves the interests of activists and liberal politicians but that cannot be supported by facts and data.
Fatal encounters between police officers and black suspects are always unfortunate and sometimes tragic, but they’re also exceedingly rare. Nor is it rational to conclude, without supporting evidence, that these encounters are driven by racial animus. As Mr. Kaufmann notes, “police killings of African-Americans declined by 60%-80% from the late 1960s to the early 2000s and have remained at this level ever since.” According to a Washington Post database, police shot and killed 999 people in 2019, including 424 whites and 252 blacks. Twelve of the black victims were unarmed, versus 26 of the white victims. In a country where annual arrests number more than 10 million, if those black death totals constitute an “epidemic” of police use of lethal force against blacks, then the word has lost all meaning.
It’s becoming clearer by the day that journalism’s cavalier disregard for providing the necessary context in its coverage of racial controversies, and the willingness of so many in the media to play down or ignore the truth about America’s racial progress, is not simply wrong but also dangerous.