Mixed Findings in Recent Poll of Asians, Hispanics, and Blacks

13 12 2007

We know anecdotally that racial stereotyping is not unique to any one racial or ethnic group. But a recent poll by New America Media of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans on race relations has attempted to quantify how pervasive these ideas actually are. As expected the poll contains some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that African Americans are associated with criminality in the eyes of many of the Asian and Hispanic respondents. A majority in each of the racial groups expressed a far greater preference for doing business with whites than those who claimed to have no racial preference at all. And the vast majority of the respondents in the survey seem to have little interaction with racial groups other than their own be it in school, place of worship, or in their own neighborhood.

The good news is that most of the respondents seem optimistic about the future of race relations and agreed that all people of color across the board should work together to solve problems that they all have an interest in addressing. In other words, cooperation among and across different races seems very much a possibility, if that option is explored by the leadership in our respective communities.

Crime and Perceptions of African Americans

Not surprisingly, many people of color are just as influenced by racist stereotyping as whites are in very real ways. 44 percent of Hispanics polled said they were afraid of African Americans because they believed black folk are responsible for most of the crime in their neighborhood compared to only 50 percent who disagreed with that assertion.

Asians generally polled about the same numbers on this question with 47 percent of them saying they were afraid of blacks because they were responsible for the crime in their neighborhoods, whereas 44 percent disagreed with that proposition.

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A whopping 71 percent of African Americans strongly agreed that the criminal justice system in America favors the rich and powerful, by contrast, only 45 percent of Hispanics and 27 percent concurred.

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A Different Set of Racial Preferences

According to the polls findings, 61 percent of Hispanics said they preferred to do business with whites as opposed to any other racial group. While 32 percent said they had no racial preference, only four percent and three percent of Hispanics said they felt most comfortable doing business with Asians and African Americans, respectively.

Asians also preferred to do business with whites by 53 percent. And while 37 percent had no preference, only seven and three percent said they felt most comfortable doing business with Hispanics and African Americans, respectively.

When African Americans were asked the same question about who they prefer to do business with, the results were modestly better. 47 percent said they were most comfortable doing business with whites. While 32 percent said they had no preference, six percent and 10 percent of African Americans reported feeling most comfortable doing business with Asians and Hispanics, respectively.

Segregation

Though the United States is becoming more diverse, it has not necessarily lead to greater integration. For example, with regard to friendship, 73 percent of Hispanics, 67 percent of African Americans, 58 percent of Asians reported mostly having friends of the same race.

Malcolm X once said the most segregated hour in America is high noon on Sunday. It seems that more than 40 years later not much has changed with 76 percent of Hispanics, 79 percent of African Americans and 37 percent of Asians reporting they attend church or religious services with people of the same race.

Segregation within the American school system also still persists. The difference now is that Hispanics have eclipsed African Americans as the most segregated group. 70 percent of Hispanics polled said they attended schools with other students of the same race. African Americans were not that that far behind with 64 percent yet only 25 percent of Asians said they attended schools with other students of the same race.

Discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement

But there were some fairly encouraging findings too. For instance, not only did respondents express optimism about the future of race relations in the United States, but blacks (89 percent), Hispanics (92 percent) and Asians (86 percent) also believed they should put aside their differences to work together on issues that affect all of their communities.

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There was also widespread agreement among blacks (92 percent), Asians (57 percent) and Hispanics (85 percent) that there was a lot of discrimination in the United States directed at their respective racial or ethnic groups.

It was also comforting to know that 73 percent of Hispanics and 65 percent of Asians agreed that African Americans have helped “all racial ethnic groups by leading the fight for civil rights and against discrimination.” Additionally, even the vitrol directed at Latinos in the media that passes for debate about immigration policy, seems to have limited influence among other people of color. 58 percent of African Americans polled and 67 percent Asians believed that “Hispanic culture have enriched the lives of Americans.” This is definitely an encouraging sign for those advocating for more tolerance and understanding among people of color.

Most surprising to me was the high level of optimism among the respondents in the poll concerning race relations within the next 10 years. Despite having the least amount of confidence in the criminal justice system and in the American Dream at 44 percent, African Americans were still more likely at 68 percent to believe racial relations will improve during the next decade. Hispanics and Asians also echoed that same level of optimism about race relations at 61 and 62 percent, respectively.

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Conclusion

My initial impression of these findings are not one of surprise. I figured these opinions were the norm among these different groups, but its still useful information to have. Without such data it will be hard to chart progress in public opinion in a country where nearly a third of the population is not white.

The findings also add more credence to the notion that segregation among the races is not conducive toward racial harmony, since lack of interaction among people of different backgrounds leads to a greater negative racial stereotyping. This should be seen as a predicated consequence of the United States abandoning its mission of bringing about a more integrated society.

No doubt, much of this neglect is due to the racial justice fatigue among the American public. But integration as a national goal has been undermined by those in power who are trying to propagate the notion that that racism died some time after the 1960’s civil rights movement. One can see this in the push to eliminate affirmative action on the state and federal level, the recent ruling in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District where the Supreme Court undermined desegregation efforts in local school districts, and the continuation of racial steering and other types of discrimination in the housing market.

Its clear more polling among these different groups needs to be done to assess what their common interests are and how those commonalities can be used in the fight to achieve greater racial justice. More importantly, more of this type of work needs to be done because people of color now make up a third of our society. That’s a sizable and much more influential minority than it was a few decades ago.
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