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How Much Racial Justice Has Been Achieved Since the Civil Rights Era?

A debate on the meaning of Barack Obama’s election and the persistence of inequality in America.

Platitudes or progress? In a recent Roundtable debate on the state of racial justice in America, Richard Franklin III, a writer and activist with the Texas chapter of the Grey Panthers, argued that the advances of the last half-century have been greatly overstated.

“You hired a black man to do a job twice in a row [and] that's progress? Obama did absolutely nothing to change the circumstances of Black America,” he said. “Then we had [James] Clyburn say, ‘Joe Biden is a good white boy, y'all go vote for him.’ And don't look at his record. Donald Trump let more black people out of jail than Barack Obama did. If you tell me we've made progress, tell me that progress specifically, not in platitudes.”

Journalist Cliff Schecter conceded that "we have a hell of a long way to go," but argued that measurable and meaningful progress has been made. “It's not all or nothing,” he said. Citing his work with the Innocence Project—a group that works to overturn wrongful convictions and correct lingering racial skews in the criminal justice system—Schecter noted, “Twenty years ago we wouldn’t have had the funding to do our work.”

“There have been improvements, as well as a huge backlash against [this progress] but you keep pushing, you keep fighting. Whether it’s on guns, or women’s rights, or gay rights, or anything else.” 

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