92 Percent Of African-Americans Say Black Americans Face Discrimination Today

Oct 24, 2017
Originally published on October 25, 2017 5:07 pm

A new survey looks at who feels discriminated against in America. The short answer: everyone, but for different reasons. And for some, it's nothing new. NPR's Code Switch team reports on how African-Americans responded.

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Americans of many different backgrounds say racial discrimination is a factor in the daily life of the country. That's according to a new survey out today from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers surveyed people from various socioethnic groups to see how and how much they've experienced discrimination. Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR's Code Switch team reports on the study's findings from the group that reported facing the most discrimination, African-Americans.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Many black people will tell you that discrimination is so ever-present in their daily lives it's kind of like background noise. It's there, but you don't always pay attention to it. So when I asked Beverly Reeves during a recent street festival in the heart of LA's black community if she ever experiences discrimination...

You're laughing. Why?

BEVERLY REEVES: Because it's kind of like - I felt like saying it's, like, kind of a duh, you know?

BATES: Kind of a duh - it's that obvious. Reeves says her most recent experience was last weekend when she'd booked manicure appointments for a group of friends - some black, some white - in her suburban neighborhood. The white salon owner, she says, looked right past Reeves to take care of her white guests even though Reeves had arrived first and was hosting the event.

REEVES: I felt very hurt by that and very discriminated against. And I have not frequented that establishment since.

BATES: Down the street, Robert Watkins says he's experienced lots of little cuts like the one Reeves just described and more serious ones as well.

ROBERT WATKINS: But it was with LAPD. And yeah, it was some racist officers, yeah, I dealt with.

BATES: Harvard's Robert Blendon at the Chan School of Public Health says discrimination might not be a surprise to the groups that are experiencing it, but it might be news to people outside their group. And that's where this survey, which talked to more than 3,400 people of various backgrounds, might be helpful.

ROBERT BLENDON: So if somebody said, yes, I saw in the news that someone was just terribly treated by police but, you know, that doesn't happen very frequently, we've now allowed people to say, well, there is an independent survey which represents people's experiences across the African-American community. And this is what they say actually happened.

BATES: Ninety-two percent of African-Americans surveyed said discrimination against black Americans exists today. Half of those thought discrimination that is based on an individual's prejudice is a larger problem compared to the 25 percent that feel institutional discrimination is more problematic. Michael Jeffries, a historian at Wellesley College, says people might not recognize systemic discrimination when it's carried out by an individual. Robert Watkins only saw individual officers, not a biased system.

MICHAEL JEFFRIES: If you don't have a sense of the way police officers are afforded leeway by the legal system to use force and deadly force, then you might be more likely to chalk up instances of police brutality and harassment to individual bad actors rather than a system that has no mechanism for police accountability.

BATES: In the survey, worry about policing was high on the list of black respondents' concerns. Sixty-one percent believe that police officers in their neighborhoods are more likely to use unnecessary force on them than on a white person, and over 50 percent say they've experienced racial slurs or people who've made insensitive or derogatory comments about their race. Wellesley's Michael Jeffries isn't surprised. He believes the current political climate is a big reason.

JEFFRIES: The president has inflamed racial tensions purposefully and repeatedly.

BATES: A poll by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, says hate crimes rose 20 percent during the 2016 election. The Southern Poverty Law Center's trackers say that trend continues in 2017. And it's not just black people who've experienced discrimination. In the coming weeks, we'll report on Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and whites, men and women and LGBTQ adults. Everyone has a story, but maybe they don't know anyone else's story, which, says Harvard's Bob Blendon, is the point of this survey.

BLENDON: What's really unusual about this is we're giving people a chance to speak to other people who are not members of their own groups.

BATES: With some hard numbers based on lived experience, Blendon hopes this might change some of the dialogue on race and discrimination over time. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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