The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

As Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches, we must re-evaluate race relations in this country.

Chatter using President Barack Obama as the poster child for what some have called a “post-racial” society is overly romanticized and inaccurate.

Of course, the historic election of the first African-American president was a significant move toward the goal of racial equality, but the idea that racism and discrimination based on color are things of the past is naive.

We’ve garnered much progress since the day King uttered the famous words of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

We’ve decimated segregation in the American South, we’ve achieved racial diversity in many positions of power, and we’ve urged lawmakers to create policy that treats all people equally under the law.

In spite of that, a society in which people are judged solely on the content of their character without consideration of the color of their skin simply does not exist.

Modern-day discrimination is considerably less blatant and has more complex factors, but the effects are just as prominent as our country moves toward a more diverse makeup.

By 2043, the United States will be a majority-minority nation, with no majority racial group. Racial diversity will aid in progress toward racial equality, but it won’t necessarily eliminate racial tension.

There are examples all over this country that suggest that racial progress isn’t moving as quickly as is often portrayed by mainstream culture.

In Phoenix, Joe Arpaio — the self-proclaimed “America’s toughest sheriff” — mobilized a posse of armed volunteers to round up illegal immigrants in the county. The posse has been accused of targeting Latino neighborhoods and unfairly profiling their community members.

Similarly, just down the road in Alamance County, Sheriff Terry S. Johnson [PDF] is accused of urging his officers to harass Latinos, allegedly telling them to, “go out there and get me some of those taco eaters.”

In New York, city leadership defends stop-and-frisk policies [PDF] that frequently target African-American and Latino men, publicly subjecting them to humiliating encounters with New York City police officers. And although a lawsuit declared part of the process unconstitutional, the NYPD has defended the use of the tactic.

The rundown of those unfortunate events signifies a more realistic status of race relations in this country. It’s a reality check that signifies where we are in the journey toward King’s goal of true racial equality.

And the work that needs to be done to achieve King’s fundamental goals of racial equality is all but done.

Even though the aforementioned events paint a grim picture of racial progression, it is important to note that there have been triumphs, too.

Those triumphs, like the election of the first African-American president, should be celebrated. But we shouldn’t become complacent.

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