Why Concern about Race Relations Has Jumped - for Whites and Blacks

By Kenworthy, Josh | The Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2016 | Go to article overview

Why Concern about Race Relations Has Jumped - for Whites and Blacks


Kenworthy, Josh, The Christian Science Monitor


The number of Americans who are concerned "a great deal" about race relations has more than doubled in the last two years, reflecting what experts see as growing but differing grievances among America's black and white communities.

Some 35 percent of Americans are now worried "a great deal" about race relations, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday. That's up from 17 percent two years ago is the highest since Gallup began polling on the issue in 2001. The previous high was 28 percent in 2001 and again in 2015.

As has long been the case, concern on the issue is much higher for blacks than for whites, but it has jumped for both groups.

The heightened sense of racial division may reflect a confluence of two forces.

First is that the optimism prevalent when President Obama took office has been tempered both by acrimony over criminal-justice issues, as well as the view that Mr. Obama has failed to deliver as much as many blacks had hoped.

Second may be the rise of a contrasting view for many white Americans: the feeling that they are being left behind in a weak economy - and that one reason is the rise of racial minorities in population and political clout.

The poll responses don't speak directly to the reasons behind the shifting views. But race-relations experts say these two views are important factors, which take most obvious form in the "Black Lives Matter" movement and the white-America nativism of Donald Trump.

For the black community, perhaps no issue is so significant as the instances of unarmed black men dying at the hands of police, such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

"For African Americans the high-profile incidents increase the perception that the police are at war with young black men," says Carol Swain, a Vanderbilt University professor of law and political science who has written extensively on American race relations.

The Gallup poll found 53 percent of blacks are worried "a great deal" about race relations in 2016, up from 31 percent in 2014, while for whites the share grew from 14 to 27 percent.

Wider economic and social conditions are also a factor in the changes, Swain says. She notes the black community faces persistent economic challenges, despite the hopes they had pinned on the Obama administration. (Black unemployment has improved under Obama, but remains twice as high as for whites. And black households on average have taken a big hit to net worth and not recovered since the recession, for example. …

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