Four years ago, with the election of Barack Obama, it was reasonable, even fashionable, to believe America had entered a post-racial era. The new president won the support of a majority of voting citizens based on the content of his character rather than the color of his skin.
But two recent trends call this advance into question.
First, there is the increasing enrollment in white nationalist groups, which should be disconcerting not just to minorities but to anyone who believes that civility and humanity should trump hostility and the politics of pigmentation. A little more than a decade ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center was tracking 602 hate groups in the United States. Last year, 1,018 were operating in the United States, the center said.
"The long-running rise seemed for most of that time to be a product of hate groups' very successful exploitation of the issue of nonwhite immigration," the organization stated. "Obama's election and the crashing economy have played a key role in the last three years." Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told ABC News last spring that white supremacist groups have increased their efforts to recruit by using the changing makeup of the country as a lightning rod. They "are talking a lot about the fact that whites will soon be a minority in this country, that their goal at all costs is to preserve the white race," Mayo said.
The second disturbing trend is the resegregation of our public schools.
In a survey released last month titled "E Pluribus . Separation: Deepening Double Segregation for More Students," the Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles reported that black and Latino students "are attending more intensely segregated and impoverished schools than they have for generations." Using data from the National Center on Education Statistics, the Civil Rights Project shows that public schools are increasingly unequal - particularly in the West and South. In the 1990s, the average black or Latino student attended a school where roughly a third of students were low income; today it's two-thirds. Black and Latino students attend schools with almost double the share of low-income students than their white and Asian peers.
Here is a stark figure from the study: "Fully 15 percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend 'apartheid schools' across the nation, where whites make up 0 to 1 percent of the enrollment." So it's too early to be trumpeting the arrival of post-racial America. But we need to get there.
Our future together, as Americans, is linked like the leaves of a tree. We will either flourish or wilt together.
Fred McKissack Jr. is a former Progressive magazine editor and editorial writer who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project.