In a study on racial attitudes, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies has found that although Black and white Americans remain far apart in their perceptions of race and race relations, the perception gap appears to be closing among America’s young adults.
The study, which was released on June 17, just a few days after President Bill Clinton’s announcement of a race relations initiative, showed that whites generally believed race relations in their communities were excellent or fair but poor in the rest of the nation. In contrast, African Americans considered race relations both in their
communities and the rest of the nation as ranging from fair to poor.
However, the 1997 National Opinion Poll revealed a significant generation gap within both races, and found a number of similarities in the racial views of young Blacks and young whites. According to the poll, young Blacks considered discrimination against African Americans to be common and saw rampant harassment by police against Blacks. Similarly, young whites believed some discrimination against Blacks continues and that police are more prone to harass Blacks than whites.
“The most promising of the findings is the remarkably similar views of young (eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old) Blacks and whites on race relations, in contrast to older Blacks and whites who view race relations starkly different,” said Dr. David Bositis, the political analyst and senior research associate for the Joint Center who
conducted the survey.
The survey consisted of three groups – a national general population sample of 850 participants, a national sample of 850 African Americans, and a national sample of 100 Hispanics. Eighty Black and eighteen Hispanic respondents who were included in the African American and Hispanic samples were also included in the general population sample.
As a result, the survey included a total of 1,702 adults.
A panel discussion was convened at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to present the findings. Eddie N. Williams, political analyst and president of the Joint Center moderated the discussion, which included: Dr. Yvonne Scruggs, executive director for the Black Leadership Forum; William Winter, former governor of Mississippi; and
“We didn’t anticipate the nation would be so focused on race. The topic of race relations is clearly on the minds of Americans,” Williams said at the panel discussion presentation.
Winter, who was chosen by Clinton to serve on the president’s advisory board on race, said that while race relations have improved considerably since his days as a youth growing up in Mississippi, “We still have a long way to go”.
“One of the things we have to do is overcome the stereotypes we have of each other. It’s a problem of education,” said Winter, who stressed that whites, in particular, have to understand how past discrimination has hampered the progress of African Americans in American society. He cited the example of Mississippi public schools, which are struggling to prepare Black students for college.
“What we found in looking at the problems of higher education in Mississippi is the historically poor quality of education in the K through twelve [kindergarten through twelfth grade] system for Blacks,” he said. “We have to make up for years of neglect to level the playing field for everyone.”
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is a Washington, D.C.-based national, nonpartisan organization that conducts research on public policy issues of interest to African Americans.
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