Race Relations In The 21st Century

Highlights of the CBS News poll on race relations:

Majorities of both blacks and whites think that laws preventing discrimination in hiring and promotion are necessary, and most favor programs that help minorities get ahead. But when the phrase "affirmative action" is used, support among whites for laws and programs that protect or assist blacks and minorities drops sharply. Using the phrase "affirmative action" has little impact on support among blacks for such programs.

The percentage of Americans who see the criminal justice system as biased against blacks has more than doubled in the past five years, from 20% to 43% now. Among blacks, 71% now believe the criminal justice system is biased against them.

In terms of police and law enforcement, the consensus among Americans is that prejudice and racial profiling are part of life today. 56% think big city police departments are tougher on blacks than they are on whites, and 58% think racial profiling is widespread.

Views of the law enforcement system are even more negative among blacks. 52% of blacks expect that the police would treat them worse than other people, a figure that has nearly doubled in the past five years. Racial profiling is thought to be widespread by 84% of blacks, and 78% think police officers are tougher on blacks than on whites.

The experiences of younger black men provide insight into why the law enforcement system is perceived to be biased against blacks. Among black men under the age of 45, 60% say they have been treated disrespectfully by the police (compared to 33% of white men this age) and 71% say they have been stopped by the police because of their race (compared to 4% of white men this age).

Black and white Americans do not share the same views about the current state of race relations in this country. The perceptions of whites are more positive than those of blacks, and have become increasingly so in the past five years. Perceptions of race relations among blacks, on the other hand, have changed little. Blacks are less optimistic than whites in their assessment of race relations in the U.S., the amount of progress that has been made in the past thirty years, and whether it is possible to end prejudice.

Blacks clearly perceive the issue of race relations as one that should be addressed by government (75%), and 76% believe the government is currently not paying enough attention to the needs and problems of minorities. Whites, on the other hand, envision a more limited role for government in race relations, as 41% think the government should stay out of this issue. Only 32% of whites think the government is not paying enough attention to race relations.

69% of blacks believe that blacks who are successful in life have a special obligation to help other blacks improve their lives. Only 32% of blacks make a point of patronizing black-owned businesses.

Most blacks support more widespread exposure to black history and culture i schools; 85% think that too little black history is taught in schools, and among those with children most would prefer their child go to a school that emphasizes these topics. Compared to blacks, a sizable number of whites know little about African-American history; although 52% of blacks say they know a lot about black culture and history, only 24% of whites say the same.

Real integration remains elusive in this country, as in their everyday lives many whites have limited exposure to black people. One fourth live in a neighborhood with no blacks, and 62% say there are a few blacks where they live. 28% of whites say there are no blacks where they work.

Two thirds of blacks have experienced discrimination, most commonly regarding employment or a promotion.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Colin Powell are viewed as the top black role models for young black people today. Michael Jordan and Jesse Jackson are also mentioned by many.

Only 37% of Americans think the country is ready for a black president. This represents a drop from just four years ago, when 46% said the country was ready for a black president.

The growing use of computers and the Internet are viewed as providing greater opportunities for blacks, especially among blacks. Although Americans acknowledge the progress made in improving racial equality in the United States during the latter part of the twentieth century, full equality between the races remains out of reach. Current perceptions of race relations in American are very different among blacks and whites, as are their personal life experiences. And those differences have contributed to outlooks on race relations that contain some striking dissimilarities.


This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,499 adults interviewed by telephone February 6-10, 2000. The sample includes 495 blacks and 771 whites. Respondents were weighted to reflect the actual racial distribution of the U.S. population. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points based on the entire sample, and plus or minus four points for each sample of blacks and whites.

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