From reading newspaper headlines or stories, it would appear that America reeks of racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry and that, as suggested by some minority group leaders, there has been a sharp increase in their intensity.
Such a here-and-now evaluation distorts the reality of today's intergroup relations and belittles the progress that has been made over the years.
Simply put, from a historical perspective, Indians today are not massacred. Chinese and Japanese are not excluded from immigration. Southern and Eastern Europeans are not hated. Roman Catholics and Jews are not barred from holding public office. Blacks are not held in slavery.Church has been separated from state, and there are no religious tests, controls, or persecution of non-or other believers. The franchise has been extended beyond the propertied few 21 years of age or over to the many --once they are 18.Education is no longer the sole privilege of the wealthy but has been expanded as an obligation and right of all. Laws, statutes, and customs which once excluded or segregated various minority groups because of their race, religion or national origin, have been abolished, or at least reduced.
In addition, there have been dramatic changes in attitudes toward minorities, particularly blacks. Gallup polls over a 21-year period reveal progressively pro-black attitudes. While in 1958, 42 percent of those polled would vote for a "well-qualified" black as president, in 1978 a high 81 percent said they would so do.
A Harris study of attitudes in 1963 and 1978 showed that white opposition to blacks moving into their neighborhoods dropped from 62 to 39 percent, bringing a black child home for supper went down from 42 to 20 percent, having a close friend or relative marrying a black declined from 84 to 60 percent, and the belief that blacks were trying to move ahead too fast declined from 71 percent in 1966 to 37 percent in 1978.
Even after the election of Ronald Reagan and talk of a movement to the right and of white attitudes hardening toward blacks, Harris polls found that there was "a majority conscience still gnawing away in this country for decency."
A review of the history of American intergroup relations, using any criterion except that of sheer perfection, would show that there has been progress -- painful and even agonizing, but progress nevertheless. Its specific characteristics have been:
* A steady decrease in religious, racial, and ethnic violence, both absolutely and relatively. Neither among American Indians, nor between whites and Indians, whites and blacks, French and English, Russians and Poles Greeks and Turks, Jews and Arabs, Protestant Irish and Catholic Irish, is there warfare. Goldberg, Nader, Tsongas, Kissinger, Hayakawa, Brzezinski, and King are household names without the ethnic, religious, or racial hatred or scorn which those of similar names once evoked.
* An unrestricted movement of minority-group members from one geographical area to another. Work permits, passports, or identification cards are not required for work, travel or relocation; even the right ot emigrate is readily available, without any exit fees or necessary loss of citizenship.
* An absense of racial, religious, or ethnic resistance and protest to new groups coming to these shores. Historically unprecedented is the absence of any significant protest by American nativists or labor unions to the admission of thousands of Indochinese, Cubans, and Haitians.
* A continuing decrease and inability of extremist groups to muster any significant popular or political support, whether it be the John Birch Society, the Communist Party, Students for a Democratic Society, or the Ku Klux Klan.
* A continuing upward socioeconomic mobility of all minority groups, whose members are no longer severely restrained by their racial, religous, or ethnic backgrounds. In spite of a bitter history of prejudice and persecution, two Quakers and a Catholic did become president; a Greek, vice-president; a Jew and a Pole, secretary of state; and a black, Lebanese, Italian, and Japanese, US senators. As a result of the 1980 congressional elections, there are record numbers of Catholics (136) and Jews (35), aside from once-despised Baptist (55), Lutherans (20), Mormons (11) and Unitarian-Universalists (9).
* An increasing compliance by the entire nation with laws strengthening individual rights, regardless of race, religion, or national origin. Calls for interposition, secession, or impeachment because of the 1954 Supreme Court decision are no longer heard.
* An expansion of the right to vote on all levels of government and the right to attend school, regardless of one's race, religion, national origin, or sex.
* A marked decrease, if not yet end, to racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination in admission to social, private, fraternal, and community clubs and organizations.
* An increase in interethnic, interracial, and interfaith socializations and inter-marriages; and a decrease in negative attitudes toward other groups, particularly blacks.
In shorts, intergroup behavior and attitudes have been changing for the better, and it is clear that blacks and other minority groups have today more freedom and security from prejudice and discrimination than they had when they were young or their parents or grandparents ever had. While not beautiful, American intergroup relations have certainly improved their appearance.