Honestly (and I know this was meant to be funny, but I can’t help it), I think it’s the latter. Humans in general, and Americans in particular, don’t have a great track record of being awesome in the aggregate, and despite what the Republicans will try to sell you, we’ve NEVER had our collective shit together.
I think of this the same way I think of illness; I am not sure we really DO have more incidents of cancer or heart disease per se…well, yes, I do; see processed foods and polluted air and water, but work with me for a second. What I’m getting at is that we have significantly better detection practices and can find those diseases sooner and better than we ever have before. More people have access to screenings so, naturally, we’re going to find more incidents of these problems.
The racism (and, worse, the violence it spawns) are NOT new nor, I think, is the prevalence of it. What IS new is our “detection practices.” Masses of people now have video cameras in their pockets that double as computers and mass communication devices. Now, instead of being a few column inches on page 9 of the local paper, the beatings/murders that happen in little towns and faraway places are being broadcast to the public across the country and the world. Think about it; unless you lived in the immediate neighborhood, would you EVER have heard about Treyvon if it hadn’t been for social media? Sanford is a nothing town in Florida. Neither party was famous (though shame on us for making Treyvon’s killer famous after the fact) or noteworthy in any way. There is no reason to think that we’d ever have heard about it. Sure, it would have been news in the greater Sanford area, but I, way up here in New England, would likely never have heard Treyvon’s name.
Social media is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing in that we get better access to more information (and it’s harder to keep shit from the public now, though a lot of it still manages to get quashed). Curse because any idiot with a smartphone can play; there’s no IQ or minimum decency requirement.