By Keith Boykin
Next week I will participate in a racial discrimination hearing against a Manhattan night club that frisked and searched me when I attended on a “Black night” but does not search patrons on mostly white nights.
Last week, I was accused of stealing an iPhone by a white woman in Miami who came up to me and asked if she could search my pockets to find it. It was not a joke or a pickup line.
And just last month, I had to pull out my own iPhone to photograph and report the license plate and medallion number of a taxicab driver in New York’s Union Square who refused to pick me up and then drove across the street to pick up a white customer seconds later.
For many African-Americans, I suspect these stories aren’t entirely surprising. As President Obama said last week, racism is a daily part of our lives. Like air and water, it’s part of the environment in which we live. Yet far too many white Americans still live in denial about its persistence.
That’s the conclusion to be drawn not just from anecdotal experience but from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Wednesday that showed a vast disparity between white and Black perceptions on race relations. The poll, conducted after George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, found that 52 percent of whites think race relations are “good” in America while 58 percent of Blacks describe race relations as “bad.”
The new poll numbers follow similar results from a Washington Post-ABC News poll two days earlier. In that poll, 86 percent of Blacks disapproved of the Zimmerman verdict while only 31 percent of whites felt that way. Even more disappointing is that 86 percent of African-Americans say Blacks and other minorities do not get equal treatment under the law, while only 41 percent of whites think that’s true.
So what explains the disconnect?
Years ago, I heard a law professor explain what I call the “magnet analogy.” Remember those big red and silver horseshoe magnets from high school? Now imagine you had to walk around the world with a huge horseshoe magnet on your neck. Aside from the heavy burden of carrying the extra weight, you’d quickly see the world a lot differently from those without the magnet.