Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Is Racism a Local Problem? the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. Has Been Asking since 1986. Now the Division Is the Widest Ever

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Is Racism a Local Problem? the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. Has Been Asking since 1986. Now the Division Is the Widest Ever

Article excerpt




Asked if racism is a problem in Jacksonville, 35-year-old University of North Florida student Earl Williams Jr. reacted as if he'd been asked if the sky is blue.

"You've got nooses . . . in a fire station and you ask that question?" said the self-described community activist.

Actually, the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. has been asking that question since 1986 as part of its annual Quality of Life Progress Report.

In its most recent report -- released Feb. 7, 10 days before nooses were found on gear belonging to two black Jacksonville firefighters -- almost half answered yes to the question, "Is racism a local problem?"

But what was most striking about this most recent report was the growing perception gap between the races. About 43 percent of whites -- the same as the previous year -- identified racism as a problem in Jacksonville, while 73 percent of blacks did.

That represented the widest divide in the 20 years JCCI has been conducting the study.

"There are two different mind-sets at work," said Bruce Barcelo, who was co-chairman of the group that wrote JCCI's 2002 study Beyond the Talk: Improving Race Relations.

Much of the white community, he said, sees progress. Legal segregation has been abolished and legal equality achieved.

But among blacks, "there is considerable skepticism," Barcelo said. "And they are skeptical for a reason."

The reason, he said, is that achieving legal equality no longer seems such a triumph to people who are struggling to stay afloat economically.

What happened is a shift from questions of legal and moral right to questions of economic participation and economic justice, Barcelo said.

"In a market-based economy, those are tough things to achieve," he said.

Ironically, the year after the 2002 JCCI study called for a communitywide effort to close the racial perception gap, John Peyton defeated Nat Glover in the mayor's election, then followed up on a campaign promise by dismissing Ray Alfred as fire chief. Jacksonville went from having both a black sheriff and a black fire chief to having neither.

Perhaps coincidentally, the gap widened 9 percentage points since that election.

In 2005, JCCI issued the first of what is envisioned as an annual Race Relations Progress Report.

It identified several factors contributing to a sense of inequality in the black community:

Whites generally performed better in public schools and the achievement gap has widened.

Black families received public assistance at five times the rate of white families.

In general, blacks reported a higher mortality rate from a variety of diseases. Black families reported lower rates of health insurance.

Blacks were arrested and jailed at higher rates than whites. About 86 percent of blacks thought racial profiling was widespread.

Fewer blacks owned homes than whites. Three of 10 black homeowners did not have conventional mortgages and relied on subprime lending to buy homes. …

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