Exhibit A may be the ugly racism that has so often bubbled to the surface since Barack Obama was elected president, racism that might not have been visible if racists weren't so enraged at a black president. Exhibits B and C might be the ongoing need for the Voting Rights Act—and the Supreme Court's treatment of it—and stop-and-frisk policies. But economic inequality is also a pervasive form of racial inequality, with improvements over the years highlighting how bad it was, and how structurally ingrained economic inequality was and is:
In 1966, the closest year from the speech for which census data are available, 42 percent of blacks lived in poverty compared with 11 percent of whites. By 2011, 28 percent of blacks were impoverished compared with less than 10 percent of whites. [...]That is both a massive set of steps in reducing the poverty rate, narrowing the median income gap, and increasing the percentage of upper-income black households and massive inequality today. And the progress over the past 50 years is striking given the weakness of U.S. policies actually attempting to advance equality rather than simply making it more difficult to create inequality. For a hundred years after the Civil War, white people gave themselves the most extreme form of affirmative action by law and at gunpoint. Then for 50 years, they've insisted that any real steps to undo that damage were unfair. No wonder progress is so halting—especially in the context of growing economic inequality for all races.
Five decades after King spoke of the “great vaults of opportunity of this nation,” median black family income is more than 40 percent below that of whites. As of June, black households were earning an annual median of $33,519 compared with $58,000 for whites, according to Sentier Research.
That gap has narrowed from a 55 percent differential in 1991. Blacks are also making gains on the upper end of the spectrum: More than one in 10 black households earned $100,000 or more in 2011, up from less than one in seven in 1991. For white households, 24 percent were earning at least that much. About 1.5 percent of black households earned $200,000 or more in 2011, a fourfold increase from 1991.