In 2000, the New York Times published a major series based on an investigation of how whites and blacks in America communicate with each other. Featuring individuals as diverse as army drill sergeants, rising Internet entrepreneurs, young Cuban immigrants, elected officials, slaughterhouse workers, antebellum plantation owners, Harlem police officers, and suburban teenagers, the Times writers told a story of both progress and setbacks in race relations. According to this series, whites and African Americans are coming into contact with each other with a frequency unprecedented in the twentieth century and in relationships unprecedented in any time in the nation's history. However, for every newly opened line of communication, new misunderstandings arise. For every attempt to understand one another's perspectives, an inclination to blame interpersonal misunderstandings on race develops. The Times's stories are fascinating case studies, which do much to capture the progress, difficulties, and continuing ambiguities of American race relations at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Many of the Times's stories reflect well-known features of American race relations: the increasingly racially mixed work forces, the difficulties of real integration in supposedly integrated schools, and the struggles and successes of African American candidates for public office. But the stories do not reveal much about a less well known feature of race relations: the declining levels of racial segregation in most of America's major metropolitan areas.