Magazine article The Christian Century

America the Disunited

Magazine article The Christian Century

America the Disunited

Article excerpt

MERICANS SHOULD heed the results of a new opinion poll indicating that the nation's racial and religious fault lines run as deep as ever, some national religious leaders are warning. Among its many findings, the survey-conducted for the National Conference of Christians and Jews and titled "Taking America's Pulse"-- discovered that, although different minority groups harbor strong negative prejudices toward each other, they are united in their bitter feelings toward white Americans. The survey also found that white Americans dispute the notion that prompts much of that bitterness: the conviction that minority groups do not get a fair chance to succeed.

James Budin, national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, asserted that the survey is confirmation that the "judgment of America will be on its racial policies. The fault line is race, and has been since the rounding of this country." Calling most of the survey results "very discouraging," Budin said: "The survey makes the work [to resolve racial bigotry] more imperative. The poll is a snapshot of a certain time. Hopefully, it will change."

The survey indicates that long-standing religious stereotypes persist, with large segments of Americans believing that Jews are too concerned about money; that Muslims belong to a religion that condones terrorism; and that Catholics are narrow-minded. Perhaps the most striking feature of the poll is the decidedly negative view of white Americans shared by a majority of African-Americans, Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans.

White people, according to a survey summary, "are perceived as bigoted; bossy and unwilling to share power and wealth. Each minority group believes it is discriminated against by a white-controlled economy and educational system, and that other groups also suffer froth discrimination and serious inequities." Yet, the summary says, "White America's vision of how minorities are bring is much more positive, diverging widely from the assessment of people of color about their own prospects." It is as if "most whites are sleepwalking, either unaware of the hard reality of discrimination or blind to its tangible impact in the daily lives of minorities."

Despite the survey's overall pessimism, it also reveals a degree of hope about race relations in the U. S.: "Despite the ugly stereotypes that sear the American landscape, the study reveals that overwhelming majorities of each group express a willingness to work with other groups to deal with pressing community issues like education, child care and violence."

Sanford Cloud, Jr., the first black to serve as president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, said that, while he is encouraged at some of the good news in the poll, the very real gap it revealed regarding views of opportunity must be narrowed. "Unless we are able to close that gap, we will not be able to reach our full potential as a country, and we won't be able to deal with the 'common-ground' problems of this country," he warned. Cloud, who is also chairman of the board of directors of Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, argued that "quiet conversations" are needed in the nation's classrooms, churches, temples and living rooms to assess and work on the reality of America's racial and religious fault lines. The survey of 3,000 Americans nationwide was conducted last summer and fall by veteran pollster Louis Harris. …

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