WASHINGTON, D.C. (WISH) - Weaving the words of America's founding fathers and a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. into his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama called for America to carry on the mission of equality. But, a new study suggests that mission has not advanced race relations here in Indiana.
Standing in front of the Capitol, the President rang in his second term by calling upon one of the familiar refrains of his first campaign.
"We the people declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebearers through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone," Obama said in his inaugural address.
The headline on the front page of The New York Times on November 5, 2008 proclaimed: "Obama: Racial Barrier Falls." It was a sign of the culmination of a phrase that helped define the 2008 election: "Yes We Can"--a campaign refrain adopted as a sign of racial progress in America.
But, four years later, some say the country remains deeply divided on race.
With signs of fallen racial barriers ringing the walls inside the Crispus Attucks museum at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, strangers stopped to witness history playing out on television, as America's first black President began his second term in office.
"I've been choking down the tears," said Faye Abdullah, of Indianapolis, watching Obama prepare to take the oath of office. "To have this on [Martin Luther King, Jr. Day] it's very moving to me. It's historical."
On a day set aside to remember the dream of equality, for many at Attucks, the "racial movement" took on new meaning.
"The whole thing is the dream being realized. It's actually coming true. With our generation, it pretty much is somewhat the same. But, with the younger generation coming up and the things that they're being taught now, I think you see it among their generation. It's progress," said Tina Jackson, of Indianapolis.
But some say the nation hasn't moved nearly enough.
"Honestly, no," said Jackson's husband Dante, asked if things has changed. "To me, it's still the same in a lot of ways. It takes a change that comes within the person. And, I haven't seen a lot of that."
"When Barack Obama was elected, we had a lot of folks saying—well, if we have a black President, then racism obviously can't exist. And, that's not true. Or they said discrimination can't exist. And, that's not true. I think we're in a better place, but there is lots of room for improvement," said Indiana Civil Rights Commission Executive Director Jamal Smith.
Still, Smith says he has seen signs of progress.
"In these days of social media and as quickly as things hit the airwaves, I think more people are conscious about how they treat folks in relation to their race or religion and so forth. We saw that start with Rodney King. That was videotaped. That was an anomaly then, perhaps. Today, that's commonplace. Because of that, people are more conscious about what they do as it relates to one's race," Smith said.
But, it is clear instances of racism have not disappeared.
An Associated Press poll taken in October 2012, just before the election, showed racial prejudice may instead be on the rise.
In all, the study found 51 percent of Americans surveyed expressed explicit "anti-black" attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.
Another poll released in early 2012 by the Indiana Civil Rights Commission showed even more stark differences. It found that nearly 58 percent of Hoosiers said they have been discriminated against in their lifetime and 88 percent feel discrimination remains a problem in their community. Nearly 91 percent of the 912 Hoosiers surveyed said they felt discrimination was still a problem statewide.
Franklin College Coordinator of Multicultural and Diversity Services Terri Roberts said it's clear evidence that work to break down racial barriers remains.
"A lot of people thought it was a magic pill that we're in this ‘post-racial' society because an African-American was elected President. That's really not the case. I think it was a very positive sign that people are more open than they were. But, it's so ingrained in our culture, and there's institutionalized racism. That takes a lot to change," Roberts said.
As another sign of the work still ahead, outlets for reporting discrimination are growing again in Indianapolis.
U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett formed Indiana's first "Civil Rights Task Force" on Monday. Hoosiers can now fill out this form to help streamline the investigation of complaints.
To affect true change,
Roberts said, individuals must start from within.
"It's really about personal responsibility. We have to look at ourselves and say--what can I do better? Who can I talk to? What can I learn about? What is my deficiency when it comes to multiculturalism and diversity? If we don't work on it ourselves, it will be harder to change as a global society," she said.
Still, Roberts and Smith both point to at least one "unspoken" sign of progress: voters freely elected Obama to a second term.
"He's brought [racial equality] to the forefront as a leader," said Abdulluh. "And, a lot of the talk today is as much about his legacy as his race. That has to say something."
"We still have a ton of work to do, a lot more people to reach, and a lot further to go as it relates to race relations, not only in this state, but in this country," Smith said. "But, as my grandmother used to say: we're not where we should be, but thank God we're not where we were."
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