December 12, 2011
(CNN) - A study that examines three years of opinion survey data says that black and white Americans are still miles apart regarding their perceptions of equality or inequality among blacks and whites. It identifies racial bias among whites as a potential reason for that difference in perception.
“Post-Racial? Americans and Race in the Age of Obama,” released Monday by the nonprofit Greenlining Institute, found a link between white survey respondents’ perception of blacks and whether they believed discrimination to be a major problem in today’s society.
When asked how much discrimination currently exists in America, 56.4% of black respondents said there was “a lot.” Among Latinos, 26.9% gave that answer. About the same amount – 26% – of respondents who reported their race as “other” said that. But only 16% of white respondents said they thought “a lot” of discrimination existed in today’s America. The majority of white respondents said there was either “some” (44.4%) or “a little” (39.5%) discrimination.
White people who said there was “some” or “a little” discrimination were more likely to agree with statements such as “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors,” and, “It’s really just a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”
The Greenlining Institute study analyzed data from the American National Election Panel Survey (ANES) conducted by the University of Michigan and Stanford University, as well as census data. The ANES researchers spoke with a representative sample of about 1,800 Americans on 12 occasions between January 2008 and July 2010. Greenlining is a nonprofit policy and leadership institute whose stated goal is to work for economic and racial equality. ”Americans are diversifying and if we want to keep ahead and keep America going forward, we have to acknowledge these disparities. If we don’t, it makes it hard to tackle them,” said Dr. Daniel Byrd, the Greenlining Institute’s research director and the study’s primary author.
Tim Wise is anti-racist essayist and activist whose work often deals with white responses to racism. He says that white disbelief in black claims of discrimination is nothing new – and that white people need to take a closer look at why so many people of color believe they are subject to prejudice.
“I think they need to reflect on why there’s such a division,” said Wise, who is white. “There’s only two ways you can interpret it: You can either interpret that [black people] are insane and borderline neurotic, that they don’t know their own life; or you could look at it and say maybe black people do know their own life, and maybe it’s worth listening to them about it.”
Among the study’s other findings:
- Although 62% of white people questioned in the survey believed that blacks’ level of health was about the same as their own, only 43.8% of blacks agreed. But according to statistical data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Office of Minority Health, there are definite disparities in health and health care. As of 2007, white life expectancy at birth was 4.8 years higher than for blacks. The infant mortality rate among black women was almost two and a half times higher than for white women. The asthma rate among black children is double that of white children.
- More than two-thirds of black people surveyed (67%) believed that black people in general make less money than whites. But the majority of whites (59%) believed that they made about the same. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, blacks’ median weekly earnings were as much as $500 less than the median earnings of whites between 2009 and 2011.
- Another question asked who the U.S. government treated better: blacks or whites. Twenty-eight percent of whites believed that blacks were treated better, and 63% thought the races were treated about equally. But only 1 percent of blacks thought they were treated better, and most blacks believed that whites either received better treatment (56.4%) or were treated about the same by the federal government (42.5%).
Why is there such a gap between how much discrimination is reported by blacks versus how much is believed to exist by whites? Wise says that the reason why whites don’t know or don’t acknowledge the racism or discrimination experienced by blacks and other people of color is because they don’t have to know or acknowledge it.
“No matter what I want to do with my life, to demonstrate that I know the reality of people of color is not going to be on the test,” Wise said. “But for people of color to get a job, any job, they’re going to have to know the things that white folks in those fields think are valuable pieces of information. People of color have to know white knowledge, white wisdom, and what their experience is, but white people don’t have to know the experiences of people of color.”