Blacks and Whites Still Perceive Local Treatment of Blacks Differently

by Jack Ludwig, Senior Staff Writer

Black Americans and white Americans have very different perceptions of how well blacks are treated in their own communities. According to Gallup's latest social audit of race relations* in the United States, nearly 7 in 10 U.S. adults (68%) feel that blacks are treated the same as whites in their communities. However, only 39% of blacks feel this way compared to 73% of whites. In answer to a parallel question about the treatment of blacks in the nation as a whole, Americans are considerably less likely to say that blacks are treated as well as whites, with only 35% holding this view. But again, the perspectives of blacks and whites diverge sharply -- 11% of blacks and 39% of whites feel that blacks are treated the same as whites in the nation.

Asked about treatment in a variety of specific situations, blacks are much more likely than whites to say that blacks are treated less fairly, in virtually all situations considered. The gap in opinion is most pronounced on questions about the treatment of blacks in dealings with the police (a 34-point gap), in stores downtown or at malls (a 33-point gap), and on the job (a 37-point gap). These gaps were evident when Gallup first asked these questions in 1997, and have been persistent features of our measurement ever since.

Gallup also asked blacks and whites about their perceptions of racial equality in children's educational opportunities. While 81% of whites say that black children have as good a chance as white children to get a good education in their community, only half of blacks (50%) feel that way. This large gap has been a persistent feature of Gallup's measurements since 1962. Among blacks, perceptions of fairness in this area have declined significantly since the mid-1990s.

With regard to housing opportunities, a 32-point gap exists between blacks and whites in their perceptions that blacks have as good a chance as whites to obtain any housing they can afford in their community. As with educational opportunities, blacks' belief in the equality of housing opportunities for blacks has deteriorated since the mid-1990s.

Blacks were asked if they feel they have been treated unfairly because they were black in the past 30 days in a variety of specific situations. Nearly a quarter of blacks believe they have been discriminated against in each of these situations, with the exception of public transportation, where perceptions of unfair treatment are infrequent. Half of blacks said they have been treated unfairly in the past 30 days in at least one of these situations. The situation in which perceptions of racially based mistreatment are most common is shopping in stores. Gallup began asking this series in 1997, and there have been few significant changes in the trend during this time period.

*Gallup conducted 1,044 telephone interviews from Dec. 9, 2002, through Feb. 11, 2003, with a randomly selected sample of adults in the continental United States. We interviewed roughly equal numbers of black and white respondents, permitting more reliable estimates of black opinion than would be possible in a standard national sample of a similar size. For our total sample of 1,044, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error for percentages is not greater than ±5%. The parallel margins of sampling error are ±6% for the sample of 505 white respondents, and ±6% for the sample of 501 black respondents.

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