Chris Rock was his usual, thought-provoking self in an interview with New York magazine's Frank Rich in an interview released today, lending his opinions on topics like President Obama, the Bill Cosby scandal and comedy's enduring battle with political correctness. But maybe the most interesting Knowledge Dart™ Rock threw out was the idea that white people have come a long way in terms of racism:
To say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years... The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
In light of the protests in Ferguson (and some of the media's reactions to them), the notion of "white progress" is pretty LOL-worthy, but Rock isn't totally off-base. He's right that black people haven't become notably smarter or more qualified and that instead, white people have dropped the prejudices that once held smart, qualified, talented black people from succeeding. As the Washington Post points out, in 1958, only 38 percent of Americans said they would vote for a black presidential candidate. That number jumped up to 96 percent in 2012.
So things are getting better—"white progress" is real—but race relations still have a long, long way to go. Just look at these two charts from the Washington Post, based on results from the General Social Survey, a massive public opinion poll conducted since 1972:
That downward trend in white prejudice is encouraging, but the fact remains that 28 percent of white Americans still believe that they shouldn't have to sell their house to a black person, and 25 percent wouldn't approve of a family member marrying a black person. That's still despicably high.
A couple other charts further indicate how much "white progress" needs to be done. More than 40 percent of white Americans still believe they're more hardworking than black people, while 22 percent believe they're more intelligent, and a majority of white Americans think a lack of willpower among blacks is what drives racial inequality. Perhaps most egregiously, one-in-ten white Americans believe they simply have a superior ability to learn:
So anyone out there reading Chris Rock's quotes and proclaiming, "We made it!" better think again. "White progress" might be a reality, but the journey to true equality and a post-racial society is far from over.