“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said those words in his famous "I Have A Dream Speech" in 1963. Now, 52 years later, he might be heartened to know Mississippi is making progress.
Mississippi ranks third out of the fifty states and the District of Columbia for the amount of racial progress it has made over time, according to a recent WalletHub study. Georgia ranked as the top state for racial progress, while New Mexico came in second.
States ranked by racial progress:
The study looked at 10 historical indicators in each state (things like homeownership, median income and poverty rates) for both black and white people, then compared the gap between them as a measure of inequality. States whose gaps shrank the most over time were deemed to have made the most progress.
In terms of racial integration alone, Hawaii was found to be the most unified, followed by New Mexico, Texas and Maryland. Hawaii also had the second-lowest gap in median annual income between black and white populations, the lowest gap in the poverty rate, and the lowest gap in the rate of business ownership.
States ranked by racial integration:
From a policy perspective, what sets the more successful states apart, and how can that be implemented elsewhere?
“Racial inequality takes place in employment, housing, education, policing, in accessing affordable quality health care, and in many more arenas," Meghan Burke, an associate professor of sociology at Illinois Wesleyan University, explained in the report. "States are bound to vary in those inequality levels because of the different demographics, economies, and policies."
"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," she added. "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.”
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.
The handful of experts interviewed in the report largely supported that basic premise, though they differed in their assessments of how much progress the country has actually made.
Nearly all agreed we must prioritize -- and fund -- quality education, and remove a wide variety of barriers to homeownership, which traditionally has been the greatest builder of wealth for American families.
“Because wealth can be transmitted across generations, what has occurred in the past still reverberates in the present," Margaret Anderson, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware, explained in the report.
"Bank redlining, predatory lending practices, and the greater likelihood of racial minorities receiving subprime loans means that they have been unable to accumulate assets (mostly in the form of home ownership) to the same extent as whites,” she continued.
We're still a long way from realizing the vision laid out in King's dream, but we're making progress. Or, as he said, more eloquently:
“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"
Read the full report on racial progress, here.
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