Why Polls on Race Relations
Ignore the Existence of
"Whites seem to think race relations are fine
until another shocking video of police brutality
goes viral and overtakes the 24-hour cable news
cycle. No dead bodies, and it is business as usual."
|As we focus on whether people think race relations are improving or getting worse, we lose sight of institutional racism.
A new CBS/New York Times poll on race relations reveals that more
Americans believe race relations are getting worse. According to
the poll, 57 percent of people—including 56 percent of whites and 68
percent of Blacks—think that race relations are bad. Meanwhile,
40 percent of Blacks and whites say things are going downhill.
Noting that the last time the polls were this gloomy was in 1992 after
the Rodney King riots, David A. Graham in The Atlantic argues, “It’s
possible that what this poll actually shows is less a material change
in race relations, than greater awareness among white Americans of
racial divisions that were previously invisible to them. This poll
offers some strong evidence for this theory.”
At a time of heightened exposure of racial issues in the media—such as
the Confederate flag, the Charleston massacre, and the deaths of
innocent Black people in police custody such as Michael Brown, Freddie
Gray and Sandra Bland—there is credibility to the notion that whites
are more aware of racial problems.
Moreover, a new movement of young Black activists is determined to
shine the spotlight on racism and bring more attention to the killing
of Black bodies and the systemic problems of the criminal justice
system and institutional racism. However, whites seem to think
race relations are fine until another shocking video of police
brutality goes viral and overtakes the 24-hour cable news cycle. No
dead bodies, and it is business as usual.
Meanwhile, whether there is a video of a Black person killed by police,
Black people always were killed by the police. But it doesn’t end
there. The impact of institutional racism is far-reaching and touches
every facet of life, and while there is no gruesome video to capture
its effects, the statistics are sobering and devastating—from mass
incarceration, education funding and the school-to-prison pipeline, to
healthcare disparities and life expectancy, redlining and employment
discrimination. One can even argue that so-called “Black on Black”
crime is a function of poverty and lack of opportunity in the Black
However, whites believe racism is an individual failing and not a
systemwide crisis. After all, so they believe, if they are not
individually racist—not waving a Confederate flag, using the N-word or
wearing a white hood—they are off the hook and absolved of racism. What
white folks do not realize is they are the beneficiaries of
institutional racism and white skin privilege, and of a system that,
running on autopilot and steroids, reinforces white privilege and
normalizes white supremacy at every level. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
referred to the drum major instinct.
“A lot of the race problem grows out of the drum major instinct, a need
that some people have to feel that they are first and feel that their
white skin ordained them to be first” King said.
Further, whites live in a bubble, in communities almost exclusively
with other whites, in which they have very little interaction with
Black people, as the poll suggests.
Source: New York Times
Unpacking this latest poll
provides hints to disconnect over racial lines. For example, 55 percent
of whites believe that Blacks have a better chance of getting ahead in
society, while only 35 percent of whites believe whites have the
advantage. In contrast, 60 percent of Blacks say whites have the edge,
and only 35 percent think Blacks have an advantage. In addition,
support for affirmative action programs is fairly split among whites,
with 51 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed, yet with overwhelming
Black support at 83 percent. Meanwhile, 75 percent of whites and 56
percent of Blacks believe there has been progress in eliminating racial
In the area of voting rights, 24 percent believe Blacks are more likely
than whites to encounter problems when trying to vote, and 71 percent
believe there is no difference, while half of Blacks believe Blacks
have more challenges when going to vote, and 47 percent say there is no
difference across race.
Concerning of criminal justice, 44 percent of whites and 77 percent of
Blacks think the system is biased against Blacks. Meanwhile, 82 percent
of whites say the police make them feel safe, while 58 percent of
Blacks say the same. Moreover, while only 34 percent of whites
responded that police are more likely to use deadly force against a
Black person, 74 percent agreed with that statement.
Further, 57 percent of whites viewed the Confederate flag as a symbol
of southern pride, compared to only 21 percent of Blacks. In addition,
30 percent of whites and 68 percent of Blacks perceived the flag as a
symbol of racism, and while only a little more than half of whites
approved of removing the flag in South Carolina, 81 percent of Blacks
Solving racism, if that is at all possible, is not a matter of everyone
just getting along. But rather, this is a matter of eradicating
institutional racism. That is not the job of Black folks. The
solution rests with white people, who for the most part do not even
acknowledge its existence.
David A. Love, JD - Serves
BlackCommentator.com as Executive Editor.
He is journalist and human rights advocate
based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to
Progressive Media Project,
McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
In These Times
and Philadelphia Independent Media Center.
He also blogs at davidalove.com,
Salon. He is the Immediate Past Executive Director of Witness to Innocence,
a national nonprofit organization that empowers exonerated death row
prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the
movement to abolish the death penalty. Contact Mr. Love and BC.
| is published every Thursday
David A. Love, JD
Nancy Littlefield, MBA