It is evident that the United States has made significant progress in racial tolerance, from Washington’s civil rights marches in 1963 all the way to electing President Barack Obama in 2008. In only 50 years Washington graduated from hosting hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to welcoming America’s first black president. Isn’t that enough evidence of great progress?
Without delving into a partisan blame game, or resorting to stereotypes or personal bias, I have analysed the headlines, social media chatter and research from the last few months to better assess the racial divide in the United States. This process has left me somewhat discouraged by the current state but also hopeful for the multicultural future of the country.
Starting with pop culture, two recent instances show a flood of racist remarks and cultural ignorance surrounding musical performances during national sporting events. The first flood, which not only happened once but twice, happened soon after 10-year old San Antonio native Sebastian de la Cruz, sang the national anthem during the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals. Outraged by his Hispanic name and Mexican charro outfit, thousands watching from home criticized his performance and insulted the boy with racist remarks. Sebastian, with maturity beyond his age, proudly represented the country he was born in while paying tribute to his Mexican heritage. The boy is also the son of an American veteran. Does looking Hispanic or Mexican mean you are illegal or any less American?
Ironically, what many may not realize is that the population of San Antonio is 63% Hispanic, according to the 2010 US census, of which the majority are Americans of Mexican descent, just like Sebastian. Therefore the pride of the city couldn’t have been more authentically portrayed than by a boy who represents the face of the population that makes up the majority of the city! Clearly this is a case where ignorance combined with stereotypes showed that matters of race are still an issue.
Apparently, Major League Baseball (MLB) fans share a common trait with NBA fans. Marc Anthony’s flawless performance of “God Bless America” during the MLB All-star game in New York City also resulted in a flood of racist remarks and tweets. Following his performance, Anthony told hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan during an interview “…to set the record straight, I was born and raised in New York, you can’t get more New York than me.” New York City, for the record, is a city where one in three people happen to be Hispanic, with Hispanics of Puerto Rican descent, like Anthony, leading the way. Also, the MLB is a sport in which almost one-third (28%) of all players are Hispanic, primarily from Caribbean descent.
Shifting to the world of advertising, a cute and innocent Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial family also served as a platform to rally up haters – so much so that General Mills decided to block comments on YouTube for the video. Drawing from a very current trend, General Mills was brave enough to feature a new face of the United States, which is becoming more diverse more quickly. In fact, mixed race marriages in the United States have grown by 28% over a decade, according to the 2010 US census. This trend, compounded by the fact that minority groups are growing anywhere between 5 to 16 times faster than whites and that today, 50% of children under the age of five are from racial and ethnic minorities, suggests a different US profile is on the horizon. It is simply the way of the future. In fact, young audiences found no fault with the Cheerios advert, as you can see from this insightful video that shows kids speaking the truth.
Manny Fields, co-founder of XL Alliance and multicultural expert says, “Culture matters! Our experiences are filters for our behavior, making us interpret the same information differently. Race and culture do factor into how we view and accept things. [For example] if corporations don’t have systematic culture checks throughout the organization, lack of hiring or ineffective supplier diversity programmes, they may unintentionally create insensitive and damaging messages. Consumers just don’t vote with their voice, they then vote with their pocketbook.”
Another case stirring racial controversy is the George Zimmerman verdict. Putting political affiliation or legal savvy aside, a recent Pew Research study revealed a wide racial gap in reaction to the verdict. Of those interviewed, 86% of blacks said they were dissatisfied with the verdict and 78% said the case raises important questions about race, Pew found. In contrast, 49% of whites said they were satisfied with the trial’s outcome; only 30% said they were dissatisfied, and 60% said the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves. Gaps also emerged through other demographic filters like gender and age. Younger people were more likely to be unhappy with the verdict (53% of adults under 30) than those aged 65 and older (33%).
Could this suggest that beyond being intentionally “racist”, people are unconsciously influenced by their own demographic filters as well as subconscious ignorance? Perhaps, but I remain hopeful for the United States. Doing this quick scan for the facts and trends, I also encountered an emerging reality represented by a generation of inclusion, the Millennials. At 86 million strong and larger than the baby boomer population, this group of 18-29 year-old Americans represent the largest population cohort the United States has ever seen. They are more educated than ever, are highly inclusive and hopeful, and are 43% multicultural. To them, inclusiveness is part of their identity and American reality. They are, just like the population under the age of five, which is 50% multicultural, the future of the United States. By default, the issue of race in the United States will soon graduate from being an “issue” to being the “asset” that differentiates this country.
Author: Lili Gil Valletta is an award-winning entrepreneur, multicultural marketing strategist, media contributor and co-founder of XL Alliance. She is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and member of the Harvard Kennedy School Women’s Leadership Board. You can follow Lili on Twitter @LiliGil
Image: Young people show peace signs as they attend a music concert in Rome REUTERS/Max Rossi.