Obama Wins! Have We Overcome the Scourge of Race?
Why, we sure have, according to Ward Connerly, former University of California Regent and longtime opponent of affirmative action. Connerly quotes one of his college professors as saying that we’ll know that we’ve overcome the scourge of race when (a) white men no longer object to their daughters marrying a black man; (b) a white person can honestly say that s/he would be willing to walk in the shoes of any black person; and (c) Americans are willing to elect a black person to the presidency.
We’ve now learned that the third condition has been met, which is a wondrous and historic event. But what about the second condition? Connerly’s evidence is the following:
It is not hard to imagine a considerable number of whites who would not mind trading places with Obama, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Tiger Woods and an endless list of other individuals identified as or perceived to be "black" - or partially so. In the case of Oprah Winfrey, $1.5 billion is enough to cause one to be willing to endure a whole lot of prejudice. Little boys wearing their "I want to be like Mike" tee shirts as a tribute to Michael Jordan is another vivid example of the waning influence of race in our nation.
Too polite to point out how these highly successful African-Americans aren’t just “any black person,” skoolboy turns to a social-scientific criterion for the willingness of a white person to walk in the shoes of any black person: equal odds of educational attainment. Drawing on the U.S. Bureau of the Census’ March, 2007 Current Population Survey, I calculate the relative odds that black and white 20- to 24-year-olds have graduated from high school and the relative odds that black and white 25- to 29-year-old high school graduates have obtained a bachelor's degree or higher.
% of white 20- to 24-year-olds reporting completion of high school: 94.9%
% of black 20- to 24-year-olds reporting completion of high school: 90.1%
Relative odds of completing high school for whites vs. blacks: 2.03
% of white 25- to 29-year-old high school graduates reporting a bachelor’s degree or higher: 38.0%
% of black 25- to 29-year-old high school graduates reporting a bachelor’s degree or higher: 22.2%
Relative odds of a bachelor’s degree, conditional on completing high school, for whites vs. blacks: 2.14
So the odds of completing high school are twice as high for whites as for blacks, and the odds of obtaining a bachelor’s degree conditional on graduating from high school are also twice as high for whites as for blacks. Given what we know about the importance of high school and college degrees for adult socioeconomic success in the U.S., my guess is that most whites would not honestly say that they’d be willing to walk in the shoes of a black person, if that black person has such a lower likelihood of obtaining high school and college diplomas.
The election of Barack Obama to the Presidency is a signal event, and the consequences of his breaking the color barrier will reverberate for many years to come. Although our President-Elect is a singular, charismatic individual who is the right man at the right time, the social, economic and political forces that shape the educational opportunities of African-Americans in U.S. society are deeply entrenched. Sadly, the scourge of race will not be easy to overcome.