Is America’s racism problem getting better or worse?
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column. Here is part of the optimistic case:
There is historical evidence that racist propaganda is most effective when communicated to young people and propagated through schooling. There isn’t such a danger in the U.S. now, when surveys show less prejudice among the young and schools promote multiculturalism. The cultural impact of millennials will increase as they age and more of the elderly die. Nor does American big business show interest in jumping on the pro-prejudice bandwagon — quite the contrary.
It’s worth remembering that attacks targeted at minorities are hardly new. In 2014, 59 percent of religiously connected hate crimes were directed at Jews. That’s no excuse for the current wave of anti-Semitic oratory, but maybe we’re just noticing it more because of the election. Smartphones, viral videos and social media will bring the worst events to our attention.
The broader historical data suggest that discrimination can persist across many generations, and of course the U.S. has a long history of prejudice toward many groups. The real lesson might be, “We’ve been worse all along,” rather than, “Things are getting worse again.” That’s not comforting, but it might imply greater sustainability for what we cherish in current American institutions. The 200-plus reported incidents in election week (an annual rate of about 10,400) have to be compared with the 293,900 hate crimes reported for 2012 (note that the two numbers do not use exactly the same counting metric).
Yet I don’t quite buy it, all things considered:
Overall, I find the pessimistic scenario to be more convincing.
Do read the whole thing to see why.