Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Are Race Relations in California Better Than Rest of US?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Are Race Relations in California Better Than Rest of US?

Article excerpt

Fifty years after the Watts riots - and 25 after the Rodney King riots - most California voters now say they think race relations are stable or improving and better than elsewhere in the United States.

Nearly 75 percent of voters described race relations in their neighborhood as good or excellent in a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll conducted March 28-April 7 and released this week.

As a new wave of racially tinged protests continues to ripple throughout the nation, some analysts are looking to California for lessons that might help promote harmony in communities struggling with racial divisions. While the survey did highlight some enduring feelings of discrimination and inequality, the overall tone of optimism about the progression towards tolerance suggests that California is doing something right.

One key driver of the overall impression of improved race relations are improving seems to be the state's growing diversity. California is 39 percent white, 38 percent Latino, 14 percent Asian, 7 percent black and 2 percent Native American, according to the latest census data. (Demographers have projected that the number of Latinos in California would overtake whites by March 2014, though accurate data is not yet available to confirm that did in fact occur.)

Perhaps even more significant than state-wide demographics is the level of diversity found within individual neighborhoods across much of the state, says pollster Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. A majority of voters polled described their own neighborhoods as somewhat diverse. Nearly a third said they lived in very diverse areas, and most said that diversity has a positive influence on one's community.

"California is the most diverse community in the history of planet Earth," he says. "Because people have so much interaction with [those of] other races and other backgrounds, they tend to have much more positive feelings about race relations in their own neighborhoods."

More than half of poll respondents reported frequently interacting with people of a different race while running errands and attending public events. That is not necessarily the case in many US communities, where neighborhoods tend to be more segregated. This is especially true for older cities, such as Boston and Chicago, where sub-communities have been long established as ethnic enclaves.

Diversity is increasing in many communities throughout the country as well. The Census Bureau projects that, by 2043, no single group will hold claim to a majority. And by 2060, combined minorities will make up 57 percent of the population.

However, diversity alone does not guarantee harmony, Mr. Schnur is quick to point out.

"As the rest of the country becomes more diverse, the challenges won't disappear, but the daily engagement will help immeasurably," Schnur says.

The challenges certainly haven't disappeared from California, either.

An overwhelming majority of voters polled of all races said African Americans still face discrimination. …

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