Survey of Americans on Race
In the last couple of years, several incidents in which African Americans were mistreated or in some cases killed by police have sparked renewed public attention to the issue of race relations in America. To better understand the current status of the issue, the Kaiser Family Foundation and CNN surveyed the U.S. public to gauge their views of race in America and personal experiences with discrimination or racism, with a focus on the views and experiences of Black and Hispanic people in America. Racism continues to be a reality for Blacks and Hispanics who report being denied jobs and housing because of their race, or being the victim of unfair treatment in public places like while shopping, dining out, or in dealings with police. Nearly half of Blacks report fearing for their life at some time because of their race. In light of these experiences, there are stark differences in how Blacks, Hispanics and Whites perceive the problem, as well as their attitudes about who is responsible for improving race relations, and views of the criminal justice system’s treatment of Blacks and Hispanics. Recent events have set inequities in the criminal justice system on this national stage and the survey explores views on the underlying reasons for recent protests and support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Racial Discrimination, Bias, and Privilege
- A third of Black Americans say they have been victims of racial discrimination at some point in their lives, denying them opportunities in housing or employment, and more than 4 in 10 (45 percent) say they have at some point been afraid their life was in danger because of their race. In addition, more than half of Blacks (53 percent), including two-thirds (67 percent) of younger Blacks ages 18-34, say they have been treated unfairly because of their race in the past month alone.
- Hispanic Americans also experience racial bias – about a quarter (26 percent) say they’ve been discriminated against, 2 in 10 (20 percent) say they have been afraid their life was in danger, and more than a third (36 percent) say they’ve been treated unfairly in the past month because of their race.
- More than half of Blacks (54 percent), including about 7 in 10 who say they have experienced recent unfair treatment due to their race, say their race has been a disadvantage in their life rather than an advantage, while majorities of Whites (61 percent) and Hispanics (56 percent) feel their race has been an advantage.
- In part reflecting the demographic makeup of the American public but also demonstrating persistent social and community segregation across the country, Whites are about half as likely as Blacks and Hispanics to say that the people in their neighborhood or the people they socialize with are mostly of a different race as them (37 percent versus 70 percent and 72 percent, respectively).
Inequities in the Criminal Justice System and Recent Unrest
- More than 8 in ten Blacks (86 percent) and seven in ten Hispanics (68 percent) say that that the criminal justice system favors Whites over people of their own race, while Whites are more divided on whether the system treats minorities and Whites equally or not.
- More than half of Black Americans (55 percent) report some connection to the prison system – either because they have been incarcerated themselves or know a close friend or family member who has been, compared to 39 percent of Hispanics and 36 percent of Whites.
- Incidents of Blacks being assaulted or killed by White police officers produced a wave of protests across America, and Black Americans say that major reasons for these recent protests include a sense of “anger over the treatment of African Americans by police” (84 percent), a “desire for Blacks to feel like they are being treated fairly” (81 percent), “the way government officials handled these incidents” (73 percent), and “poverty and lack of opportunities in some neighborhoods” (61 percent). While majorities of Whites and Hispanics also say each factor was a reason for protests, they are generally less likely than Blacks to say that each was a major reason.
- These incidents have spurred the civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter, and overall, 35 percent of the public identifies as a supporter of the cause, 49 percent do not, and 16 percent say they haven’t heard of it or aren’t sure. Among Blacks, the share saying they support the Black Lives Matter movement jumps to 58 percent.
Perceptions of the Problem
- Across different racial or ethnic groups as well as those living in urban and rural settings, a majority of Americans (64 percent) feel that racial tensions have increased in the past 10 years in the country overall, but fewer (23 percent) say they feel tensions have increased within their local communities.
- Many (49 percent) say racism is a big problem in the country, including two-thirds of Blacks (66 percent) and Hispanics (64 percent) and a minority of Whites (43 percent). The share of Americans overall who say racism is a big problem has increased somewhat from two decades ago (49 percent from 41 percent), and compared to 2001, more Americans today say there is a lot of discrimination against Blacks and Hispanics.
- Black and Hispanic Americans are about evenly split about what is the bigger problem — discrimination that is historically built into society and institutions or individuals’ own beliefs and prejudices. White Americans, on the other hand, are more likely to say that individual bias is the bigger problem.
- More than 8 in 10 people in the U.S. feel that it is the responsibility of individuals’ themselves to improve race relations, rather than federal or local government or the media. However, most say it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure equal schools and treatment by the criminal justice system, while the public is more divided on whether the federal government should help ensure income equality.
- As a way to make up for the harm caused by slavery, just over half of Black Americans (52 percent) say the government should make cash payments – known as reparations – to descendants of slaves; Whites are overwhelmingly opposed to the idea (89 percent).
- Moving toward the 2016 presidential election, there is little consensus about whether the issue of race has gotten too much (37 percent), too little (19 percent), or the right amount (39 percent) of attention in the campaigns. In terms of how the political parties represent the interests of racial minorities, most Americans – Blacks and Whites alike – say the Democratic Party has become more representative of the interests and needs of members of minority groups over the past few years, while the Republican Party has become less so.
Current Situations and Barriers to Advancement
- When it comes to how the average Black or Hispanic is doing on income, education or housing compared to the average White person, many say they are worse off than the average White person.
- Blacks most often point to past and present discrimination (69 percent) and lack of jobs (64 percent) as major reasons for some of the problems facing Black Americans today, and Hispanics most often say lack of educational opportunities (62 percent) and lack of jobs (61 percent) are major reasons for issues facing Hispanic Americans. Whites are generally less likely to say each of these is a major reasons for problems facing Blacks and Hispanics.
Changes Over Time
- Over time, there have been modest changes in the public’s perception of racism, their views on the role of the federal government in alleviating differences between groups and what barriers remain when compared to a Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post/Harvard School of Public Health Survey on race in American conducted in 1995 with many of the same questions.
- Compared to 1995, the public is now somewhat more inclined to say it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure income equality across races, however, slightly fewer Americans see ensuring equal schools or treatment by the criminal justice system as the government’s responsibility.
- In terms of how the average African American or Hispanic American is faring compared to the average White person, there are some signs of increased optimism. Blacks are less likely to now say the average African American is worse off in terms of income than they were in 1995 (71 percent versus 84 percent) and Hispanics are less likely now than in 1995 to say Hispanics are worse off than the average White person in terms of income and housing.