Three In 10 Acknowledge Racial Prejudice

It’s hard to characterize these results on the racial/political landscape as encouraging.

As Sen. Barack Obama opens his campaign as the first African American on a major party presidential ticket, nearly half of all Americans say race relations in the country are in bad shape and three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. […]

Overall, 51 percent call the current state of race relations “excellent” or “good,” about the same as said so five years ago. That is a relative thaw from more negative ratings in the 1990s, but the gap between whites and blacks on the issue is now the widest it has been in polls dating to early 1992.

More than six in 10 African Americans now rate race relations as “not so good” or “poor,” while 53 percent of whites hold more positive views. Opinions are also divided along racial lines, though less so, on whether blacks face discrimination. There is more similarity on feelings of personal racial prejudice: Thirty percent of whites and 34 percent of blacks admit such sentiments.

Nearly nine in 10 whites said they would be comfortable with a black president, suggesting there are quite a few white voters who harbor feelings of racial prejudice but would accept Obama anyway, or there are quite a few white voters who are lying to pollsters about their comfort with a black president. (It’s worth clarifying only two-thirds of whites would be “entirely comfortable” with a black president, meaning about a quarter of whites say they’re comfortable with the idea, but they’re not thrilled by the idea. I’m going to guess these are the whites most likely to be lying.)

Some wanted to see the silver lining of these results.

At National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez saw the glass as half-full.

While “three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice,” that number is down from their 1999 poll (the only one they cite for reference). And “Whites” assess themselves with less prejudice (30 percent) than “Blacks” (34), which bodes well for “the first African American on a major party presidential ticket.”


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And while three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice,” seven in 10 did not. In other words, the overwhelming majority.

I wish I could feel as encouraged. Yes, 30% acknowledge racist tendencies, which is down from 1999. But it’s only down from 34%, and the figure among whites has dropped from 32% to 30%. Lopez alluded to “massive improvements.” It looks to me, given the three-point margin of error, that we’ve seen very little progress at all.

Similarly, while I’m delighted that a strong majority say they do not harbor feelings of racial prejudice, two angles come to mind. One, some of the 70% might be lying. And two, when nearly one-third of the American electorate in the 21st century is willing to concede feelings of racial bigotry, that’s not good.

Nevertheless, the same poll also found that “just over four in 10 think Obama’s candidacy will improve race relations, nearly three times as many as think it’ll hurt.”

It sounds like we could use the boost.

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