By George E. Curry
The understandable attention being focused on differing attitudes among Whites and Blacks toward law enforcement authorities in the wake of decisions by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict White police officers for killing unarmed Blacks ignores a larger and more troubling trend – Blacks and Whites view race and racism from distinctly different perspectives.
Over the past 50 years, Gallup has tracked U.S. attitudes on race. On Dec. 12, it issued a report that found four key areas in which Blacks and Whites hold widely divergent views – attitudes on race relations in general, views of discrimination against Blacks, beliefs about the need for new civil rights laws and more intervention by the federal government, and views of the police and the criminal justice system.
Let’s look at each issue separately.
Gallup researchers found:
“Since the late 1990s, blacks’ optimism that there will be a solution to the country’s racial problems has consistently trailed whites’ by about 12 percentage points,” Gallup reported. “Most recently, in June 2013, Gallup found 58% of whites versus 48% of blacks believing a solution to black-white relations would eventually be worked out. By contrast, in December 1963 – at the end of what some describe as ‘the defining year of the civil rights movement’ – a U.S. poll conducted by NORC found 70% of blacks in the U.S. believing a solution would eventually be worked out, while barely half of whites – 53% — agreed. When Gallup repeated this question in the early 1990s, blacks’ outlook had dimmed to match whites’, with 44% of both groups feeling optimistic. Now, the gap has expanded, primarily because whites have become more positive.”
Discrimination against Blacks
More than a third of Blacks – 37 percent – believe that racial discrimination is the major reason African Americans live in worse housing, have a higher unemployment rate and have less income than Whites. Only 15 percent of Whites share that view.
Moreover, approximately three-fourths of Whites (74 percent) believe Blacks have the same opportunities as Whites in the U.S., compared to only 56 percent of Blacks.
Among Whites, 74 percent believe Blacks have the same opportunities as Whites in jobs, 80 percent say that is the case in education and 85 percent believe Blacks have the same opportunities in housing. Only 40 percent of Blacks say African Americans have the same opportunities as Whites in jobs, 55 percent in education and 56 percent in housing.
Civil Rights and Government Help
Both Blacks and Whites agree that civil rights for African Americans have improved within their lifetimes. Most Whites (54 percent) feel they have “greatly improved” over that period while only 29 percent of Blacks feel that way. Slightly more than half of Blacks –52 percent – say their civil rights have improved “somewhat,” compared to about a third of Whites who share that view.
Given that fundamental difference, it is not surprising that Blacks and Whites look at the role of government differently.
Slightly more than half of Blacks (54 percent) say the government should play a major role in improving the social and economic positions of Blacks. Only 22 percent of Whites agree. In fact, about three in 10 Whites argue that the government should play no role at all in that arena.
“..whites are now less likely to favor a major government role in assisting minorities than they were during the previous decade. Blacks, though still supportive of a major government role, are also a bit less likely now than they were in 2004-2005 to think that,” according to Gallup.
Police and the Justice System
When Gallup asked last year whether the American justice system was biased against Blacks, 68 percent of Black respondents said yes while only 26 percent of Whites agreed.
But the high-profile police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Gardner in New York may have made matters worse.
A new NBC News/Marist poll showed that 83 percent of Whites have a great deal or at least a fair amount of trust in local police, compared to 50 percent of Blacks. Tellingly, 79 percent of Whites said they were confident police won’t use excessive force. Only 43 of Blacks share that confidence.
Respondents were asked: “How much confidence do you have in police officers in your community to treat blacks and whites equally?” That’s where we saw a huge gap: 52 percent of Whites said a great deal, 26 percent said a fair amount while 19 percent of Blacks said some or very little.
Pictures of White and Black protesters marching together in the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner is encouraging. But when you look at overall views on race, we have a long road ahead of us.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.