Despite some perceived improvements, 45 years brings little change in perceptions that Blacks are discriminated against in some key aspects of life in America – and change for the worse in others
NEW YORK — In the midst of Black History Month, it is perhaps an appropriate time to examine some of our nation’s historical racial divides and reflect on changes that we as a country have seen over time. As far back as 1969 and 1972, The Harris Poll measured perceptions among U.S. adults as to whether blacks were discriminated against in a variety of areas of American life. A new Harris Poll revisits the same line of inquiry and finds that, 45 years later, there have been some sizeable changes – along with a disparaging lack of change in some regards.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,236 adults surveyed online between January 15 and 20, 2014. (Full findings, including trended data tables, available here)
Perceptions of discrimination declining in some areas…
In many ways, Americans – not only collectively but when looking at blacks and whites individually – are less likely to perceive discrimination against blacks than they were 45 years ago. These drops in perceived discrimination are largely in areas related specifically to opportunity or housing/accommodations, and are encouraging. Top examples include drops (compared to 1969) in the perceptions that blacks are discriminated against…
- …in getting hotel and motel accommodations (down 19 percentage points among Americans overall, 32 points among African Americans, 20 points among whites);
- …in getting decent housing (down 16, 21 and 18 points, respectively); and
- …in getting skilled labor jobs (down 13, 22 and 13 points, respectively).
…but rising dramatically in others
However, when turning to broader issues there are areas of troubling growth in perceived discrimination. Most notably, roughly six in ten Americans (59%), including 85% of African Americans and 55% of white Americans, now believe blacks are discriminated against in the way they are treated by police ; this represents more than a twofold increase among the general population (up 34 points) and nearly a threefold increase among whites (up 36 points).
While the perception that this type of discrimination exists shows more moderate growth among African Americans (up 9 points), it could be argued that with a starting point of 76% in 1969, there was far less room left for perceptual growth when compared to the general population and whites (which were at 25% and 19%, respectively, in 1969).
- An additional factor to bear in mind when considering the larger growth in perceived discrimination among white Americans is that most did not believe such discrimination was occurring in 1969, while the majority believe it exists now – a considerable shift in public attitudes which may enable deeper, more honest discussions in the future toward the goal of addressing issues of inequality.
Another area where Americans in general, and African Americans specifically, are more likely to believe discrimination exists is in the way they are treated by the federal government.
- In 1972 (the first year this particular area of American life was tested), only 13% of Americans, including 41% of blacks and one in ten whites (10%), believed discrimination against blacks existed in this area.
- Today 23% of Americans believe this to be the case, including six in ten African Americans (60%) and 16% of white Americans (representing 10, 19 and 6 points of growth, respectively).
“No news” is bad news
It’s an old cliche that no news is good news, but it doesn’t always ring true. In fact perhaps the most compelling evidence of ongoing problems is the shifts not revealed in this series.
In 45 years, Americans’ likelihood to believe that blacks are discriminated against in getting full equalityis virtually unchanged (from 47% in 1969 to 45% in 2014); this also holds true among white Americans (43% in 1969, 41% in 2014).
- While this perception has decreased marginally among African Americans (down 6 points since 1969), perhaps the more important takeaway for this group is that nearly eight in ten (78%, compared to 84% in 1969) believe they are discriminated against in this manner today.
Turning to the way blacks are treated as human beings , there have been only marginal shifts in comparison to 1969 in the perception that they are discriminated against in this area. The perception has risen slightly among Americans overall (up 5 points, from 39% in 1969 to 44%) and whites (up 4 points from 35% in 1969 to 39% in 2014).
- Though it has lessened slightly among African Americans, it is worth noting that over seven in ten believe this type of discrimination exists today (71%, down from 77% in 1969).
Some improved perceptions among African Americans since 2008
While the primary focus of the study was to see how far we have – or haven’t, as the case may be – come since 1969, some changes are notable in comparison to more recent history as well. In comparison to December of 2008, just after President Obama was elected into office, the perception among African Americans that they are discriminated against in several areas of life in America show notable drops:
- In getting a quality education in public schools (down 22 points, from 67% in 2008 to 45% in 2014);
- In getting decent housing (down 14 points, from 76% to 62%, respectively);
- In the wages they are paid (down 13 points, from 76% to 63%, respectively); and
- In getting skilled labor jobs (down 13 points, from 74% to 61%, respectively).
These findings represent the first in a two-part series on the state of discrimination in the United States.
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