Half of American whites see no racism around them

  • By Jim Tankersley, Peyton Craighill and Scott Clement The Washington Post
  • Thursday, June 18, 2015 9:33pm
  • Local NewsNation / world

WASHINGTON — The murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday night appears to be a horrific — and impossible to deny — illustration of racism in America. Federal authorities are investigating it as a hate crime. The city’s mayor called the shooting “an unfathomable and unspeakable act by somebody filled with hate.”

When it comes to more mundane racism, though – in the economy, in schools, even in the criminal justice system – there is nothing “undeniable” in the minds of many Americans, particularly whites. A Washington Post analysis of Pew Research Center polling on racial issues shows that half of white people do not sense black people are treated less fairly than whites — by police, employers, doctors, restaurants and schools; and at the ballot box.

The whites who see no racism around them are far more conservative than the population as a whole, more often male and more likely to live in rural areas. Three-fifths of white Republicans see no racism, compared to about a third of white Democrats.

A far smaller share of blacks are not seeing racial discrimination in their communities: 13 percent, or slightly more than one in eight. Hispanics were closer to blacks on the issue, with 24 percent not seeing discrimination across all seven areas the poll measured. Conversely, blacks were five times more likely than whites to report widespread racial disparities across their communities.

The survey, from 2013, asked respondents if black people in their community were treated less fairly than whites in seven different areas: in dealing with the police, in the courts, on the job or at work, in stores or restaurants, in local public schools, in getting health care and when voting in elections.

In every case except dealing with police, a majority or plurality of all respondents said blacks were not treated less fairly. In every instance, though, at least 4 in 10 blacks said they were treated less fairly.

The Post broke down the polling data to see how many times an individual respondent said blacks were treated less fairly. For white respondents, 49 percent of respondents said blacks were treated fairly in all seven categories — compared with 2 percent who said blacks were treated less fairly in every instance. For black respondents, roughly the same share said blacks were always treated less fairly (14 percent) as said they were never treated less fairly (13 percent). Forty-two percent of black respondents saw racism in five or more categories, compared with 8 percent of whites. White respondents who said discrimination was widespread were far more liberal and more likely to live in urban areas.

How do these perceptions match up to reality? While it’s hard to say exactly how much discrimination exists in each part of society in the Pew Research survey, there’s strong evidence of disparate treatment across several sectors. In the criminal justice system, black marijuana users are far more likely to be arrested than white marijuana users, despite modest differences in usage rates. As sociologists Devah Pager and Hana Shepherd summarized in 2008, evidence of discrimination against blacks persists in a wide variety of settings. Blacks tend to pay more than whites for fast food (controlling for other factors) and when buying cars and receive fewer callbacks when applying for jobs. Other examples abound, but together they suggest discrimination continues to exist in a range of areas.

It’s possible, of course, that recent events – including highly publicized police-involved deaths of black men in cities such as Baltimore, Cleveland and Ferguson, Mo. – have changed some of those perceptions. Gallup polling shows 13 percent of black Americans now rank race relations as the country’s most pressing problem — up from 3 percent at the start of 2014. Four percent of whites say the same, up from 1 percent.


Talk to us

More in Local News

News logo for use with stories about Mill Creek in Snohomish County, WA.
Mill Creek house fire leaves 1 dead

The fire was contained to a garage in the 15300 block of 25th Drive SE. A person was found dead inside.

Firefighters respond to a house fire Wednesday morning in the 3400 block of Broadway. (Everett Fire Department)
3 hospitalized in critical condition after Everett house fire

Firefighters rescued two people, one of whom uses a wheelchair, from the burning home in the 3400 block of Broadway.

The Walmart Store on 11400 Highway 99 on March 21, 2023 in in Everett, Washington. The retail giant will close the store on April 21, 2023. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
Walmart announces Everett store on Highway 99 will close on April 21

The Arkansas-based retail giant said the 20-year-old Walmart location was “underperforming financially.”

Michael Tolley (Northshore School District)
Michael Tolley named new Northshore School District leader

Tolley, interim superintendent since last summer, is expected to inherit the position permanently in July.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
New forecast show state revenues won’t be quite as robust as expected

Democratic budget writers say they will be cautious but able to fund their priorities. Senate put out a capital budget Monday.

Everett Memorial Stadium and Funko Field on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Drive to build new AquaSox ballpark gets $7.4M boost from state

The proposed Senate capital budget contains critical seed money for the city-led project likely to get matched by the House.

Ron Thompson, a former resident of Steelhead Haven, places a sign marking the 9-year anniversary of the Oso landslide Wednesday, March 22, 2023, at the landslide memorial site in Oso, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘It’s the closest I can be to them’: Nine years after the Oso mudslide

In the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, 43 people died. Families, survivors and responders honored the victims Wednesday.

Prosecutor Craig Matheson gives his opening statement in the trial of Richard Rotter at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
At trial in Everett cop’s killing, witnesses recall chaotic chase

The testimony came after an Everett officer was shot while investigating a robbery Wednesday morning, investigators said.

NO CAPTION NECESSARY: Logo for the Cornfield Report by Jerry Cornfield. 20200112
Pursuing pursuits, erasing advisory votes and spending battles begin

It’s Day 73. Budgets are in the forecast as lawmakers enter the final month of the 2023 session

Most Read