Despite the backdrop of increased racial tensions in communities across the country, a revealing National Bar Association (“NBA”) survey shows that substantial majorities of Americans – both black and white – agree that race relations are better today than they were 50 years ago. However, most respondents from each race believe relations are worse than a decade ago, the survey found.
Despite five decades of civil rights and affirmative action programs designed to foster closing the gap among the races, the eye-opening insights into racial attitudes in America illuminate the need for local, state and national dialogue and action on race and community relations.
“Our national conversation about race has been going on for a long time, and it’s encouraging to see signs of progress. However, 50 years of conversation is too long without seeing more movement and, to a certain extent, regression. This survey shows that clearly there remains work to be done,” said Benjamin Crump, president of the NBA.
Among key findings of the survey, conducted by Sachs Media Group:
- Both whites (76%) and blacks (58%) agree that race relations today are better than they were 50 years ago – but feelings are less positive regarding the past decade, with only 47% of whites and 38% of blacks saying race relations are better today than they were 10 years ago.
- Blacks and whites express equal degrees of curiosity (17%) when interacting with strangers who are not members of their own racial group, but blacks also feel caution, mistrust, fear and hatred at much higher rates in those circumstances.
- While fewer than one-fourth of Americans believe the nation is close to achieving racial equality, older whites are the most optimistic (27% of those age 50-64 and 24% of those age 65 and older). Only one in five millennial blacks (20%) has an optimistic view.
Amid a year that focused attention on tragic shootings of unarmed people of color by law enforcement agencies around the country, the NBA partnered with Sachs Media Group to produce the survey. The NBA – the nation’s oldest and largest national association of predominantly African-American lawyers and judges – was joined in announcing the results by the National League of Cities. The League has launched an initiative to help America’s cities address obstacles posed by racism.
The NBA survey found that fewer than one in five African-Americans believe the country is close to achieving racial equality, while fewer than one in four whites share that perspective. The survey also found wide disagreement between the races, and among different age groups of each race, about what the term “racism” means and what actions are required to demonstrate racism.
“These findings should concern all citizens and public officials who still see the need to build a greater sense of community after so many years of policy progress,” said Clarence Anthony, executive director of the National League of Cities. “There is significant work to be done – especially among young adults who don’t see positive change around them. While they’ve grown up at a time when we’ve made considerable advances in creating more racially inclusive communities, clearly we all have a lot more work to do.”
Crump, a national civil rights attorney who has gained acclaim representing the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others, said the survey findings underscore heightened tensions around the nation. He remains positive, however, citing a survey finding that a substantial majority of Americans – of both races, and in all regions of the country – said they “never” feel the need to avoid interacting with other ethnic groups for fear of offending someone or being misunderstood.
Anthony said the survey results reinforce the need for the National League of Cities’ bold new initiative to improve race relations across the country. TheRace, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative is intended to equip local officials with effective tools to address the historical, systemic and structural barriers caused by racism and inequities. The goal is to strengthen the leadership capacity of local elected officials to address the impact of race and equity issues – and, ultimately, to evolve and strengthen inclusive, thriving communities.
When asked who they feel is most responsible for today’s inequities between white and black communities, white respondents overwhelmingly (57%) said whites and blacks are equally responsible. But blacks assigned responsibility quite differently, with about one-third (32%) citing both races and another one-third (33%) attributing it to “white people of the past.” Far fewer respondents of either race cited whites of today, blacks of today or blacks of the past, or said there are no inequities.
“These data show younger generations of Americans expressing greater concerns about the future of race relations than older generations,” said Dr. Karen Cyphers, who oversaw the survey as director of Sachs Media Group’s Breakthrough Research division. “Younger Americans also report avoiding interactions with people of other backgrounds to a greater extent than older Americans. These findings validate the need for improved communications within communities, and more engagement from public, private and non-profit leaders.”
The survey of 1,088 Americans, conducted June 25-July 6, also found significant differences in how racism is identified and encountered.
- Members of both races feel discriminated against, to different degrees. Asked whether they had been discriminated against because of their race, 80% of black respondents said either yes or they were not sure, while 55% of whites answered that way.
- Asked how recently they had experienced racial discrimination, 69% of blacks and 51% of whites said it had been within the last five years.
- Almost two-thirds of white respondents (64%) said racism does not require prejudicial feelings to be acted on, but more than half of blacks (55%) defined racism as attitude combined with action.
- Among blacks, 54% said they are “very often” or “sometimes” treated negatively or judged unfairly because of their race, while just 15% of whites gave similar responses.
- In the aftermath of inflammatory incidents between law enforcement and African-Americans, a majority of both blacks (88%) and whites (59%) agree that blacks are treated unfairly by police – but they also say police are misunderstood by blacks (67% of blacks, 52% of whites).
- Geography affects how people view whether blacks are treated unfairly by the police. In the South, that view is supported by 90% of blacks but just 55% of whites, with a similar 92-57 split in the Midwest and 87-61 difference in the West. In the Northeast, however, the gap is much narrower: 74% of blacks compared with 63% of whites.
- More than three-quarters of both blacks (78%) and whites (88%) agree that the news media fuel racial tensions, and fewer than one-third believe the news media portray people fairly based on race (black 30%, white 26%).
Data tables with detailed survey data are available at https://sachsmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/racesurvey.pdf.
Photos of Benjamin Crump, Clarence Anthony and Dr. Karen Cyphers are available at https://sachsmedia.com/race-relations-survey-photos/.
For additional information, contact Lonita Baker, National Bar Association Chief of Communications at [email protected], (502) 210-7062 or Jon Peck at Sachs Media Group, [email protected], (850) 222-1996.
The National Bar Association is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of predominantly African-American lawyers, judges, educators and law students. It has 84 affiliate chapters throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Africa and the Caribbean. It represents a professional network of more than 65,000 lawyers, judges, educators and law students.
Sachs Media Group, based in Tallahassee, Fla., is a leading integrated marketing communications firm with diverse advertising, branding, digital and market research services. The firm has additional offices in Orlando, Boca Raton, Tampa and Washington, D.C.
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