ASK any of today's pundits to look into their tea leaves and project what our world will look like in the year 2042 and you will hear a chorus of optimists singing about the dawning of a brighter day. These are not wide-eyed dreamers, but pragmatic men and women who see, even in the racial tension of modern times, concrete evidence that in the next 50 years America will not retreat much further from the battle against racism and oppression.
Many say, for example, that the gains Black Americans have already made in several critical areas provide a solid foundation for even greater feats in the coming century.
Take, for example, the world of politics where many say the gains that already have been made are tangible signs that more are likely to come. "Who would have thought a generation ago that we would have a Black governor of Virginia, a Black head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff...a Black president at the Ford Foundation and about 25 Black congresspersons," says Jack Greenberg, dean of Columbia University's Columbia College and former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
As more and more Blacks climb the ladder in the political arena, momentum is building for the eventual election of a Black president or vice president--a notion that seemed, unlikely at best, just a decade ago. "Most Blacks did not think that a strong run by an African-American was possible in the 1980s," says District of Columbia Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, "yet Jesse Jackson proved them wrong. There definitely will be a Black president or vice president in the next 50 years. African-Americans have learned that you only get what you strive for and we should continue to strive for one of the two top elected offices. We have earned it."
Not everyone, however, is convinced that current political gains will translate into a Black president in the next 50 years. Harvard University psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint, for example, says that it is far more likely that a Black man or woman will be selected for the second spot on the ticket. "I think, for instance, that it is possible within the next 10 or 15 years to have someone who is as widely accepted as Gen. Colin Powell as a vice president," he says. "I don't think we will have elected a Black president within the next 50 years, but I think there is a good chance we'll have a Black vice president."
Paving the way for a Black president or vice president is what many see as the lessening of racism, which some attribute to the diminishing presence of White Americans in the urban centers that remain the nation's cultural, intellectual and political hubs. While arguing that it is "never wise to underestimate the power of irrational racism," John Jacob, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, says racism is on the wane and may be diluted even more in coming years.
"If the past is any guide," Jacob says, "[racism] should continue to weaken, at least in its overt forms. The "browning" of America is leading to a smaller White population that must accommodate itself to the greater numbers of Black, Hispanic and Asian peoples."
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) makes the same point, saying: "The increasing diversity of America is inevitable. With more Blacks and other peoples of color, there will be a tilt in power...and Whites will be in the minority. It is in the best interest of White people to work harder to create better relationships with people of color so they can ensure themselves the equality that has eluded us."
Others, like NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Hooks, however, say racism may simply take a more ominous, though less obvious, turn in the next century. "I think that while there may be less overt racism 50 years from today, if present trends continue, there may be more racial isolation and racial polarization."
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Studs Terkel, author of a new book on race relations (Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession) sounds an even more cautionary note: "If in 50 years there is as much racism as there is now, or even more than there is now, it would only prove that man is not at the top of the animal kingdom, but at the bottom of it . …