When Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president, many people saw proof the United States had entered a post-racial age. They argued the old struggles over racial bias, prejudice and inequality had been put to rest, consigned to the 20th century.
But while that 2008 election was undoubtedly a high point in the country’s long, jagged, sometimes violent, racial experience, it also marked, for many, a resurgence of racial hatred more intense than had been seen in decades.
Now, two years into the administration of President Donald Trump, some Americans argue the country has taken a step back in race relations.
So where are we, which vision of race in America is correct, as far as rank-and-file Americans are concerned?
The Daily News sought to illuminate that question through a series of interviews of Galveston County residents representing as many races and political camps as we could find willing to talk.
Here’s part one of what we learned.
Dedrick D. Johnson Sr.
Dedrick D. Johnson Sr., of Texas City, grew up in an America that taught this: through education a black man could be whatever he dreamed or wanted to be, he said.
Johnson, 47, a divorced father of four, thinks the country has taken a step backward in race relations, he said.
“The position of POTUS is one that many of our country’s leaders and children look to for mature, intelligent, unifying dialogue, and Mr. Trump has exhibited none of those things,” Johnson said.
“The beginning of the Obama era showed a flicker of promise, and hope, so much so that we rushed to call it a post-racial society. But it didn’t take long for groups and individuals to speak up about living in a country being led by a black man.
“They attacked him, his family, and shed light on the ugliness that once existed so overtly. That has now snowballed into the ‘us versus them’ mentality that’s so prevalent in America today.”
Although Johnson reports being discouraged and disappointed about race relations in America at large, his perception of race relations in Galveston County is a little better, he said.
Johnson believes some parts of the county contain people who see no color, while in others race hatred and prejudice are deeply rooted in history, he said.
“While we aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, most communities of Galveston County present themselves as close-knit, open-minded, diverse communities where people care about one another and ‘know’ one another,” Johnson said.
“On the contrary, that’s where racism is rooted: in a form of ignorance where one group thinks itself superior over others because it knows nothing about them, their culture.”
Johnson, a father of two sons, has had to have what he called “the talk” with his oldest, Dedrick Jr., who is a freshman in college, more than once, he said.
Dedrick Jr. has shared instances in which he has seen or felt disparities in how he was treated or things that were said in his presence about minorities, Johnson said.
“I’ve taught him to be wise and more discerning when it comes to being aware of the different guises in which racism can emerge,” Johnson said.
“I don’t discuss racism with my young children so much — at least not yet. They’re young innocent minds; and until that monster rears its ugly head, I’ll let them enjoy playing with their friends and discovering themselves.”
Dealing with racism is nothing new in Johnson’s everyday life, he said. In his neighborhood, people respectfully keep to themselves. There’s a friendly wave here and there, but few personal interactions among residents, he said.
Johnson, who once was a school teacher and now an operator for Marathon Petroleum Corp., has had to deal with race issues not only in society, but on his job, he said.
“People at my job have very strong opinions about the way things are today in society,” he said. “There’s no topic that we don’t discuss. Race matters in almost all of the segments that we talk about — and most people at my job aren’t shy about telling you how they feel about it either.”
Respecting one another’s opinions and calling out racism when we see it can improve race relations in America, he said.
“We need to understand that racism will never be eradicated when only the oppressed are fighting against it and speaking up about it,” Johnson said. “Race relations factor into mostly every segment of our society. For anyone to say that it doesn’t just ignores the impact and makes room for inequities to grow. Race should not be a topic too taboo to discuss.”
LILLIE ANN ALEMAN
Lillie Ann Aleman is a proud Hispanic American, who was born in Fort Worth, but moved to Galveston when she was 4 years old.
The widowed mother of four, and grandmother to seven, is retired, and lives in a mixed neighborhood where all of the neighbors are good to one another, she said.
Aleman, who is president of LULAC Council No. 151 in Galveston, thinks race relations in Galveston are better than in most cities in Galveston County and surrounding areas, she said.
“Galveston seems to be more integrated than on the mainland,” Aleman said. “On the island, we encounter less discrimination and I believe the city is more racially tolerant.”
Aleman said she never encountered a racial climate or any overt racism during her working life.
“I believe that residents of Galveston try to get along with one another and be inclusive, but that’s not to say we don’t have some problems,” Aleman said. “I can’t say for certain, but it seems that there are more racial issues on the mainland. As for the USA, we all know there are many, many race issues.”
Those issues, as it relates to race, aren’t discussed often in her family or with friends, she said.
“It just doesn’t come up unless we hear about a situation in another city or in another state,” Aleman said.
Aleman’s strong faith in God is what she feels can help to “fix” race issues in America, she said.
“We need to turn to God for guidance,” Aleman said. “I know that there’s no easy way to fix it because if there were — we would’ve already fixed it. We, as Americans, need to love one another regardless of our differences. I believe that race relations were so much better during the Obama administration; there was hope for the future. Not so, now. I’m afraid for the future of America.”
Gregory Samford, 61, who’s white and retired, keeps himself busy as a sports official and by volunteering with several nonprofits, which allows him contact with people of every color, he said.
Samford, who was born and raised in Galveston, sees Galveston County as a microcosm of the country, he said.
“There are daily reminders of racial inequality that we’re exposed to on social media,” Samford said. “If it happens elsewhere, there’s a strong feeling it could happen here.
“I see locally there are many individuals who work tirelessly to improve the relationship between racial groups. Race relations can always improve on the national scale, and that looks massive, but individually we can reach out daily to contribute to a better life for everyone.”
Samford, who’s frequently on Facebook and Twitter, said he feels a responsibility to research issues, and post on social media and discuss with friends ways to improve race relations, he said.
Asked whether race relations have gotten better or worse, Samford said he saw evidence supporting both conclusions.
“I believe that we have been able, however slow, to make progress in the area of eliminating discrimination and social injustice,” he said.
“However, political opinions and views on the practice of religion will continue to hinder the progress of race relations.”
“Race is like all other relationships,” Samford said. “We have to work on improving the relationship and that work must be done on a daily basis. If we’re inactive, we allow skepticism and stress an opportunity to damage our relationships.”
As far as finding a “fix” for race issues in America, Samford said there’s always room for improvement.
“It has gotten better, but we can always improve,” Samford said. “Race relations will always be a journey for each of us, never a destination. I will never reach perfection in life in regards to race relations, but I can strive for perfection and achieve excellence. The choice is mine.”