Racial Progress Has Come Far, But Has It Reached MLK's Dream?

Jessica Renae Buxbaum
A new study analyzes how far each state has come over time. Based upon various factors, the results placed Georgia at the top and Maine last for racial progress.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and as we reflect on our past racial divisiveness and King’s legacy, there is no better time to measure how far we have come since the radical leader’s achievements during the Civil Rights Movement.

A new study by WalletHub analyzes how far each state has come over time. Based upon various factors including gaps in wealth, education and employment between blacks and whites, the results placed Georgia at the top of racial progress and Maine finishing last in overall change.

As Mic recognizes, states’ racial progress is mirrored in its historical grounding to Jim Crow. The states with lower rankings tended to be further away from where Jim Crow was prevalent, while places like Mississippi (a state deeply involved in this conflict) ranked third in overcoming inequalities.

The study interviewed a host of experts that in majority agreed racial progress was hindered by residential racial segregation.

“Racial residential segregation has been called the lynchpin of racial inequality,” Maria Krysan, a sociology professor at University of Illinois at Chicago said. “Because where you live impacts so tremendously so many aspects of your life (where you can work, access to healthcare, exposure to violence/crime, what kinds of stores are nearby, access to green space, exposure to environmental hazards) it has been understood as a crucial factors perpetuating racial and ethnic inequality.

While we have come far since the days of de jure segregation, that does not by any means indicate we have finally reached King’s “dream” for American society.

"However, one thing seems clear: race-conscious and proactive, intentional policy to create and sustain equal opportunity is always better than policies favoring the free market or those that are color-blind in other ways," Meghan Burke, an associate professor of sociology at Illinois Wesleyan University said. "Pretending racism and inequality doesn’t exist, or that it can be solved through individual (market) choices, will only continue to grow these already-deep inequalities.”

By instituting color-blind policy actions and not bringing attention to the current Black Lives Matter movement, society is subtly reversing our progress and rejecting that institutional biases and racism are still readily apparent in today’s America. 

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Banner image credit: Twitter user @amnesty