The public outrage over the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and others has brought to light the often-unheeded reality of racial tension here in the United States. The nation witnessed the pain, grief, and indignation among African Americans as protests began in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore and spread across the country sparking the “Black Lives Matter” movement. But this movement has met with a mixed response, reflecting a deeper divide on how Americans view the problem of race in this country.
So what are the contours of this divide? And what do Americans really believe about the Black Lives Matter movement? To explore the issue in more detail, Barna Group asked American adults about their experience with race. Is there anger and hostility between different ethnic and racial groups? Is racism a problem of the past, or the present? Do people feel disadvantaged because of their race or ethnicity? Can the church play a role in racial reconciliation, or is the church part of the problem?
Racial Tension Today
More than 50 years after the March on Washington, work to heal the wounds of hundreds of years of racial injustice remains to be done. When American adults are asked whether they believe racial tension exists, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” The vast majority of adults agree there is a lot of anger and hostility between ethnic and racial groups in America (84%). This was true—and remarkably so—across the board. No matter the age group, region, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or faith segment, the vast majority among each group believe there is tension among racial and ethnic groups in this country.
But when asked more specifically about racism, that is, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior,” the results were slightly different. There were two big standouts here, the first being evangelicals, who were almost twice as likely than the general population to agree strongly that “racism is mostly a problem of the past, not the present” (13% compared to all adults at 7%, or “no faith” at 3%). The other group with a high proportion of respondents agreeing that racism is mostly a problem of the past is conservatives at 12 percent, which is also interesting considering the comparison to liberals at 4 percent. Conservatives are those who identify as mostly conservative, and Democrats are those who identify as mostly liberal when it comes to political issues.
Looking at this question from a different angle—those who strongly disagree that “racism is mostly a problem of the past, not the present”—we see some differences between black and white Americans. 42 percent of the general population strongly disagree that racism is a problem of the past, and although both black and white Americans share that sentiment, black Americans (49%) are ten percentage points more likely to disagree that racism is history than white Americans (39%)
Differing Opinions About Its Impact
When it comes to the lived experience of people of color in this country, seven in 10 Americans agree they “are often put at a social disadvantage because of their race” (67%). However, once again evangelicals and Republicans are less likely than the general population to believe this is true. For example, evangelicals are 11 percentage points less likely than the adult average to believe people of color are at a social disadvantage (56% compared to 67%), and this gap widens even further when you look at the figures from another angle.
Evangelicals are more than twice as likely as the general population to “strongly disagree” that people of color are socially disadvantaged because of race (28% compared to 12%). This is also the case for Republicans who are 10 percentage points less likely than the adult average (57% compared to 67%), and 21 percentage points less likely than democrats (57% compared to 78%), to believe people of color are at a social disadvantage (57%), and more than twice as likely as democrats to “strongly disagree” that people of color are socially disadvantaged because of race (17% compared to 8%).
There are also deep divides between black Americans and white Americans. 84 percent of black Americans agree that people of color are often put at a social disadvantage because of their race, while only 62 percent of white Americans agree—lower than the national average, though still higher than either evangelicals or Republicans.
There are even deeper divides when it comes to reverse racism. Seven in 10 white people strongly and somewhat agree that prejudicial treatment of them is a problem in our society today (71%). But, the black population isn’t as convinced—less than half agree that prejudicial treatment of white people is a problem (46%). There is an equally deep divide between Republicans and Democrats, the former being one third more likely than the latter to believe reverse racism is a problem (77% of Republicans compared to 53% of Democrats). This makes sense in light of the fact that white people make up 85 percent of the Republican Party, while making up only half in the Democratic Party (54%).
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SOURCE: Barna Group