It's almost 2016, and Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream more than 50 years ago that all races would be equal in the United States — but something tells me he wouldn't proclaim his dream to be true if he were watching the news today. In light of recent events like the violence in Ferguson, Baltimore, and now Chicago, CNN and the Kaiser Family Foundation released a timely survey on Tuesday that focuses on race relations in the United States. According to the study, a whopping 49 percent of Americans believe racism is a "big problem," which represents a significant increase from past surveys.
The study's findings, released officially on Tuesday night during CNN Tonight With Don Lemon, came from a survey of nearly 2,000 Americans. Almost half of America believes that racism is a "big problem," and a third believes racism is "somewhat of a problem," according to the survey. What's more, just 7 percent of respondents claimed that racism is "not a problem at all." With so much violence and activism in the news on a regular basis, it's hard to believe that anyone would say racism is not a problem at all in the United States, but it's still disappointing that such an overwhelming majority sees racism as a big problem or somewhat of a problem.
Though interesting and somewhat shocking, the statistics by themselves don't prove that racism is increasing. Rather, they show recognition or awareness of racism is increasing. This could very well mean that more racist behavior is occurring in the U.S., but it would probably be much more difficult to prove that fact on its own. Even still, the survey demonstrates that racism is perceived as a bigger problem now than at any other time in recent history. In 2011, just 28 percent of Americans said that racism was a big problem. In 1995, 41 percent said so. This could indicate that awareness of racism fluctuates over time, but whether that perception is at 28 percent or almost 50 percent, we could do better as a country.
Additionally, whether racist behavior is actually increasing or not, Americans certainly think that it could be. The study also revealed that most Americans — 64 percent — think racial tensions have increased in the past 10 years. The racial breakdown of respondents is also worth noting. When asked if racism is a big problem in the country today, 43 percent of white people said yes, while 66 percent of blacks and 64 percent of Hispanics agreed.
CNN's report came on the same night that the streets of Chicago were engulfed with protesters and activists because of an all-too-common race-related issue. On Tuesday, a local state attorney in Chicago announced that police officer Jason Van Dyke would be charged with first-degree murder for fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald back in 2014. Along with the announcement of charges, the Chicago Police released dash cam footage from the incident that shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times after being on the scene for less than 30 seconds. Van Dyke, who has had complaints filed by individuals of color in the past, is white, whereas McDonald was black.
As protesters took to the streets with a Black Lives Matter-esque call to action on Tuesday night, CNN's findings could not have been more relevant. Still, it's important to remember that the research surveyed a relatively small number of people — just 2,000 out of the more than 300 million people who live in the U.S. currently. Also, as with any survey of its nature, the findings do not speak to a causation, but rather just a correlation. In other words, more Americans are not necessarily reporting that racism is a big problem simply because more racist activity is occurring. It should be clear by now that race-related issues are much more complex than that. But ultimately, the report provides a compelling snapshot of race relations in the U.S. today, especially in light of the most recent tragedy in Chicago.