Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and five and a half years after Barack Obama made history upon becoming the first African American president in his country, the U.S. has still not been able to overcome its racial problems of the past.
Slavery and racial segregation have become part of history books. However, racial tension between white and black people is still present, as has been shown this week in Ferguson, Missouri, where the August 9 death of Michael Brown – a young, unarmed African American – at the hands of a white police officer has provoked violent protests.
Ferguson is a place where the deep racial divisions and existing inequality between white and black people are well reflected, according to Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution.
The urban landscape of Ferguson, a town of 21,000 residents, has undergone a transformation in recent decades. In 1980, 85 percent of the population was white; now, 67 percent is black. Unemployment has gone from less than 5 percent in 2000 to more than 13 percent in 2012.
Kneebone specifies that poverty has doubled in Ferguson, where one in four residents lives below the poverty line (it was estimated that a family of four members needed $23,492 per year to not be considered poor in 2012).
However, the inequality between white and black people is not limited to Ferguson; it is patent in many cities in the U.S. To see it, one only needs to take a walk through cities like Washington, where white and black people live in separate neighborhoods and where economic differences are apparent.
Only one out of every four African Americans (26 percent) believes that the life of black people has improved in the United States since Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. When asked, 35 percent of white people agree with this statement, according to an opinion survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013.
Less than half of Americans (45 percent) believe that the United States has made remarkable progress towards racial equality, and 49 percent thinks that there is still a lot to be done.
According to the census data, in 1959 the poverty rate among the black population was 55.1 percent, three times more than that among the white population. Although poverty has been reduced since then, it continues to disproportionately affect African Americans. In 2011, 27.6 percent of black households lived in poverty, almost 3 times more than white households, where poverty affected 9.8 percent of families. In 1972, the unemployment rate of young African Americans was 2.04 times more than that of whites. In 2003, it was 2.02 times higher.
In addition, 38 percent of the prison population in the U.S. is black. According to Pew Research, African Americans are 6 times more likely to end up imprisoned than whites.
The arrival of Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, in the White House in January 2009 does not seem to have improved the situation of this sector or the racial tension between white and black people in the U.S.