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As the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial dedication on Aug. 28 approaches, people have begun to wonder the extent to which Dr. King’s dream of racial equality has become reality. Recent studies suggest that Americans have seen advances in civil rights but that the goal of full equality is not yet accomplished.

While a USA Today/Gallup poll from early this month found that 90 percent of whites and 85 percent of blacks think civil rights for minorities have improved during their lifetime, only 51 percent of those surveyed said they think there is full racial equality in the United States.

And three years into the term of America’s first black president, people are feeling less optimistic about race relations with time. Another USA Today/Gallup poll found,

By 35 percent to 23 percent, more Americans believe U.S. race relations have gotten better rather than worse with Barack Obama’s election as president. However, this positive tilt is not as strong as what Gallup found in October 2009, when 41 percent said relations had improved and 22 percent said they had gotten worse. Currently, the plurality of Americans, 41 percent, say race relations have not changed as a result of Obama’s presidency.

This contrasts with a poll from November 2008, when 70 percent of Americans predicted that race relations would improve as a result of Obama’s presidency. That optimism has faded as the presidency continued, and the most recent figures suggest that many are losing faith that Obama will be a racial panacea.

But in the end, the polls merely represent people’s perceptions of racial issues — one need only examine hard data to see that Obama’s presidency has not miraculously created racial equality. An analysis of Census data found that the wealth gaps between whites and minorities have risen to their widest levels in a quarter century, since the economic recession exacerbated existing inequality. In fact, whites average about 20 times the median net wealth of blacks and 18 times that of Hispanics.

Given this information, perhaps Americans should view the new MLK memorial not as a symbol of victory, but as a challenge to continue the fight for greater equality.

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