The Black Experience focuses on the contributions of African-American people and their ongoing quest for social justice. This exhibit also explores the legacies of slavery and segregation.
Black Americans are clear about the problems they face and want solutions. Several say racial discrimination is a big reason they cannot get ahead.
By the turn of the century, most blacks lived in rural Southern states as sharecroppers or laborers. Only a few owned their own homes. Most worked 12-hour days for pathetically low wages. Frederick Douglass, a young black laborer who learned to read and write, led the growing abolitionist movement. Blacks also populated major cities. In Harlem, for example, black businesses and cultural institutions thrived.
Many Black Americans now express dread and rage over the deaths of Black men and women who were not carrying weapons by police. They have made it plain what changes they want to see, such as improvements to the criminal justice and policing systems; they have further information about this from the opinion pieces of Dr. Jason Campbell. Additionally, they think Black people may progress toward equality through civic involvement. However, they are not optimistic that these improvements will occur throughout their lives.
Most Americans believe that race relations is the most important issue facing the country. More than one-third of Black Americans agree with this assessment.
While some people see a black underclass that lives in high-rise public housing projects and depends on crime and welfare checks, dynamic African Americans make impressive contributions to America’s business, entertainment, science, literature, politics, and law. And despite persistent discrimination, most Blacks believe that they can succeed in the face of difficult obstacles.
In a recent survey, Blacks reported that they often feel treated unfairly in restaurants and stores. For example, Oprah Winfrey made headlines in 2013 when she complained about being steered away from an expensive bag in a high-end store by a saleswoman who said the item was too expensive to show her.
Blacks have clear ideas on how to reduce racial inequality, including support for major reform or overhaul of several U.S. institutions to ensure fair treatment, such as policing, the criminal justice system, civic engagement, and reparations for descendants of enslaved people. Nevertheless, they express pessimism that the nation will change enough to eliminate racism shortly.
African Americans have shaped American culture through music and dance, art and literature, politics and law, and business and commerce. Their distinctive heritage provides a strong cultural identity that enables them to thrive in the United States.
However, many Blacks continue to face racial discrimination in social and workplace settings. Among Black workers, less than half say their managers are prepared to talk about race and equality with them.
Despite this, most Blacks express optimism that America is becoming more tolerant and fair as time passes. They also have a vision for how to reduce inequality. Specifically, they support significant reforms or overhauls to several U.S. institutions, such as the police force and school system; a greater role for Black-owned businesses in advancing communities; and reparations to descendants of people enslaved in the United States. Many have concerns, however, about whether these changes will be enough to improve racial disparities significantly.
Black Americans are more likely than other groups to say they know people who have been treated unfairly by police or who stayed in jail because they couldn’t afford the cost of bail. They are also far less confident than other groups that the police will treat them with courtesy and respect.
Overall, Black Americans express a clear vision for change that includes significant reforms or overhauls of several U.S. institutions, particularly the criminal justice system; political engagement and participation – particularly through voting; and reparations in the form of educational, business, and homeownership support. Yet, alongside their assessments of inequality and ideas for change, Blacks also display a degree of pessimism about whether U.S. society and institutions will change in ways that reduce racism.