Racism Changing? No

From AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Racial attitudes have not improved in the four years since the United States elected its first black president, an Associated Press poll finds, as a slight majority of Americans now express prejudice toward blacks whether they recognize those feelings or not.

Those views could cost President Barack Obama votes as he tries for re-election, the survey found, though the effects are mitigated by some people’s more favorable views of blacks.

Racial prejudice has increased slightly since 2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test that measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic directly.

In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.

“As much as we’d hope the impact of race would decline over time … it appears the impact of anti-black sentiment on voting is about the same as it was four years ago,” said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who worked with AP to develop the survey.

Most Americans expressed anti-Hispanic sentiments, too. In an AP survey done in 2011, 52 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes. That figure rose to 57 percent in the implicit test. The survey on Hispanics had no past data for comparison.

The AP surveys were conducted with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of Chicago.

Experts on race said they were not surprised by the findings.

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  • Kenton

    Well then. Clearly the remedy is to elect Romney next week.


  • scotmcknight

    Kenton, you know, instead of being sarcastic this kind of report ought to drive us to our knees about the intractability of racism — in a number of directions — in our culture. If an African American president can’t change our cultural instincts then we, the church, ought to be doing something more proactive.

    I read this report and the last thing that came to mind was who should be the next President. What comes to mind is this: Is the church a place where racism is being undone?

  • BradK

    Scot, don’t you think it should first drive us to the data to see if what the AP authors are claiming is true? Taking a quick look at the survey cited in the article, it is not immediately obvious where the evidence came from for the claim that “51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey.” That is aside from wondering what “express explicit anti-black attitudes” means.

  • Scott E

    “Explicit anti-black attitude” seems pretty strong. Even among people I see struggling with racism I wouldn’t call it an “explicit anti-black attitude.” Most of the people I know either aren’t racist or are trying to change. BradK raises a good point.

    Also, it troubles me that we think this is just a white thing against all others. If living in the south for eight years taught me anything it taught me that racism is alive and well in the hearts of all people – regardless of their skin color.

  • scotmcknight

    BradK, yes, of course. The article struck me at the intuitive level as accurate.

  • Great question. Unfortunately, an answer determined by Swiss cheese methodology. They might be right. However, I love to see a more sound way of going about it…and also a reasonable explanation for how more people carried racist attitudes than voted for Obama in 2008. We need to take racism seriously. That study doesn’t… IMHO.

  • scotmcknight

    Tim, really, we’re dealing with a Stanford professor …

  • Jeremy

    A black man represents everything the Right despises and latinos are at the center of the illegal immigration debate. The message of the last 4 years is that Obama and Mexicans are everything that’s wrong with this country That racism has become MORE entrenched, rather than less, is hardly surprising to me.

  • Jason

    I would love to see the questions they asked, and what they interpreted as being implicit racism. My guess is that anyone who even notices that people have a range of color to their skin counts as a racist.

  • scotmcknight

    Jason, why guess when you don’t know?

  • Kenton


    Sorry to be flippant. I don’t take this sort of report too seriously. I’ve been hearing way to much rhetoric about how all opposition to Obama is racially based, and those false accusations have only served to aggravate the problem.

    Yes, racism is still out there, I get that. And yes, we need to be concerned about it and look for ways to actively address it. But like BradK I’m really specious about those conclusions. To the extent that racism is there, it’s way more systemic and covert than it is explicit.

    Sadly, the sorts of changes we would all want to see don’t happen over the few years this measured. They happen over generations. The good news is that if we measure racial attitudes over generations, they are certainly improving. I see that clearly looking at my parents, my grandparents, myself, and now my kid.

    You’re points about the church are certainly worth taking up, though. It’s 2012 and Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week. What the hell is that about? And clearly there’s NOT enough the church is doing to actively address it.

  • Jim

    I think on a deeper level there is a fear among white folks that we’re losing the America we know and love. I don’t share that fear, but everywhere you look the country looks different than it did when I was growing up. Certainly things like globalization plus the demographic shift plus the economic uncertainity we all feel is not helping matters.

    I wonder if the incredible growth of Reformed theology (read Puritan America) is not a symptom of this larger problem? My family and I used to visit a church where the pastor loved to quote Puritan writers even more than the Bible and I always thought these folks were looking for an America long past (I believe people go to church much more for sociological reasons than theological ones).

    Race is such a visceral issue that many other, more complex issues get caught up in it.

  • JoshuaDembicki

    I’ve no doubt that what the authors are claiming is true. I’m at Iliff School of Theology, and we touched on this issue briefly today in my Ethical Analysis and Advocacy class. I agree with Scot – this ought to drive us to our knees in prayer… but also back to the drawing boards, as leaders in the Church, and as individuals. Speaking as a White Male, I think it’s important to investigate the embedded presuppositions that are constructing my complicit participation in the systems that perpetuate these attitudes.

    My professor challenged us to try “The Race Game” this week, as it is found in Thandeka’s book, Learning to be White, and described in this blog post: http://whitestudiesblackstudies.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/learning-to-be-white-thandeka/

    I have little pride in the matter: I’m willing to try anything and for my presumptions about how to address the issue to be wrong. To skirt around Scot’s question, say the church is not a place where racism is being undone; how do we respond?

  • JoshuaDembicki

    A takeaway from my class discussion today, seems relevant to this discussion: No matter how much I try to disentangle myself from the complicity of oppression, I am still tied in with it. White supremacy has been so interwoven in the very fabric of this country that it is very easy to ignore or not even recognize one’s complicity with racist structures. The fact that I recognize these structures of oppression and dedicate my life to overcoming them does not mean that I am saved or cured. In fact, to use 12-step language, it means that I am a recovering racist; I could easily fall off the wagon. When the price is too high for my rhetoric, I could keep my mouth shut. I could forget about my convictions when it may not be profitable to hold them. It is a daily struggle to remain cognizant of my own complicity and respond to it with repentance and change.

  • Tom F.

    Implicit tests of racism (the main one is known as the IAT) work by measuring the amount of time it takes to put negative or positive characteristics next to various races. Implicit racism is assessed by having it take longer for people to put positive characteristics next to some races. This sort of test correlates very highly with explicit racism, but picks up considerably more than simply asking people about their explicit attitudes (http://faculty.washington.edu/agg/pdf/GPU%26B.meta-analysis.JPSP.2009.pdf).

    On the other hand, some do wonder about how much these implicit attitudes really measure racism, and may not actually predict real-world behavior. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201101/does-the-implicit-association-test-iat-really-measure-racial-prejudice-p?page=2)

    The IAT may overestimate racism: (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201101/does-the-implicit-association-test-iat-really-measure-racial-prejudice-p?page=2). Three cheers for Google scholar.

    My take: IAT probably is picking up something real, but its still being developed and validated. The media is not always great about science reporting, and it is a bit far to say that IAT = prejudice, although there is definitely a relationship.

  • James Neely

    Practically always when I see discussions about race relations, it involves white-on-black prejudice. I do not wish to justify that attitude in any way. However, I don’t believe the problem can be solved by only whites correcting ourr attitude; there must be corrective action taken on the other side of the problem. To pretend it is only a white problem is to live in a fantasy land where real problems are ignored and never solved.
    To prove the existence of such, there follows two thoughts involving black on white prejudice, and one that might appear to be, but isn’t.
    1. Martin Luther King’s “dream” is often quoted as, “I have a dream”. However, it is apparently forgotten that he used that word 8 times to define what he was talking about. The most telling was the following quote, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. That statement is devoid of a reference as to direction of prejudice, but its universal absence; to which I add a hearty “Amen”. However, many of the race relationship problems today are brought about by those who are not willing to accept that dream in its full implementation.
    2. As we look at voting practices of members of the black race relative to Obama, I have seen numbers like 95% voting for him. I would contend that anyone who votes against him just because he is black is expressing some prejudice. I would also contend that anyone who votes for him just because he is black is also expressing some prejudice, and I think the numbers speak for themselves.
    I live in a small (20,000 population) middle TN town. There is a black congregation in town that is of the same religious group as are we. Some time ago we invited the black congregation to merge with us; they declined. In this case I think they exercised good judgement, not prejudice, for I think they can have a greater impact in the area in which they meet than if they had joined with us. We do have 8 – 10 black members who are accepted into the congregation, just as every one else. In fact one of the ladies has taught an adult ladies class on occasion.
    As is true relative to any people problem, we must look at the whole picture, then with a prayerful attitude do all we can to resolve it. Ignoring a major element in the relationships will cause our efforts at solution to fail.

  • MattR

    Anyone else find it interesting that some of the comments on this post are basically trying to convince us that racism doesn’t exist?! Maybe this is part of the problem… we want to ignore the problem!

    Or maybe we have blinders on that this could ever happen in modern day America.

    I also think Jim in #12 makes a great point… fear. People are threatened by difference. And afraid of what might happen when the minority becomes the majority. And afraid that the country won’t be the same because people who don’t look like them, who are ‘different’ than them (non-white), are now in the mainstream.

  • Rick


    I don’t see one comments that is “trying to convince us that racism doesn’t exist”. They are simply saying there is more to the story.

  • Rick

    opps: I don’t see one comment….

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    When it comes to the problem of racism (and there is one), I don’t think responses like, “Well, racism cuts both ways” (hey, their guilty too!), or a kind of “Well, were all guilty” which means in some sense that “no one is really guilty” to the incredible, ‘it’s the Christian Right or Political Right or Republicans are the real racists’ (not the rest of us), will never change anything much less help the church change in any significant way. There are several better or proactive ways for people to take a real hard look at the church and explore ways of dealing with this but I will say the one response I liked the best is Joshua #14. Humility and looking in the mirror is the first thing we all must do rather than pointing fingers in different directions.

  • Tom F.

    Neely: there have been dozens and dozens of elections where black people voted for a white candidate over a black one. For example, remember when Jesse Jackson was running for the Democratic candidacy? A majority of black voters picked first Walter Mondale and then Michael Dukakis. The fact 95% of persons are going to vote for Obama does not mean a race issue is necessary. Take Jesse Jackson again. What if 95% of white persons said that they weren’t going to vote for him in the Democratic. Would that mean that they are all racist against him?

    “However, many of the race relationship problems today are brought about by those who are not willing to accept that dream in its full implementation.” – Well, if prejudice is still around, shouldn’t people be able to bring it up? Can you be more specific here?

    Granted, all relationships are two way. But if you were talking to a couple where one member has a history of physically assaulting the the other, you would approach the situation very differently than if they were simply both arguing. Race relations is like that: as white people we need to acknowledge that our “side” has a history of violent prejudice, and that while we are “in recovery” perhaps, we still (as a white culture) carry around problematic attitudes that negatively affect black people.

  • Every time I see one of these studies, I wonder why the focus on black and white. We are a multicolored and multicultural nation. Much of California, for instance, has changed from majority white to majority hispanic. I’m thankful that they at least mentioned hispanics, but suspect that the incidence of prejudice may be less where they are so numerous that we have largely gotten used to one another. Our once white church is gradually becoming more diverse. As we learn one another’s stories, prejudice is broken down little by little. Where the races are kept separate, prejudice increases. Foster loving relationships and we all become people to one another, instead of racial stereotypes.

  • MattR

    Rick @ #18,

    I guess a better way of saying it is… when these stories come up, why do some automatically say ‘well, there’s another side to the story?’ Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t… but it often sounds like just trying to change the subject. And trying to downplay the impact racism, unfortunately, still has in our country.

    This is a legit survey, by a legit organization… but let’s not let the facts get in our way. 🙂

    Let’s not hide from the truth by trying to point the finger at someone else, or saying ‘the other side does it too!’ I’d rather spend energy on Scot’s question in comment #2… how can the church be salt and light in this situation?

  • Jason

    Scott, I’m guessing precisely because I can’t do anything else: I don’t have access to the study. But if your question is why I am skeptical, there’s two reasons.

    First, my own experience. I am in contact with a lot of people, and racism is not something I encounter very often.

    Secondly, I’ve seen so many studies where the bar for what counts as X is set either too high or too low. For example, I’ve seen reports about 1/2 of Americans (or something similar) being obese. When I looked at their definitions for overweight and obese, they were unrealistic. I was considered overweight by their criteria, even though I am relatively skinny. I have one of the smallest waist sizes available in men’s pants for goodness sake! Given point #1, and given my observation #2, I suspect that they are defining racism too loosely and concluding that more people are racist than really are.

    In my experience, people often confuse racial awareness with racism, and often mistake one’s dislike for a particular culture with their dislike of a particular skin color. For example, one may not like certain elements of Asian culture, but that doesn’t mean that they hate Asians. And yet, if anyone says anything negative about Asian culture it is automatically interpreted as racist.

  • metanoia

    Racism has been at the heart of seemingly every ethnic, and racial group since the recording of history. If this is the full report, the Stanford professor didn’t poll how Hispanics (I am one) and/or African Americans feel about whites. Racism cuts in both directions. My personal experience, anecdotal to be sure, is that the generation of my children is much more open to racial and ethnic equality. Judging by the sheer numbers of bi-racial children I’d say that the poll can do with with some segmentation by age group and find that the numbers have changed significantly.

  • Angela

    We belong to God’s Kingdom. We should have no other response to this article than humility and a contrite heart and to pray for God’s kingdom come. We should be looking to love all people. That is what the church does.

  • Amanda B.

    Here’s hoping the spam filter doesn’t eat this, but for anyone interested in the actual survey, here it is:


    I would like to see an explanation of how they got from this raw data to their conclusions. From my standpoint, it seems to me that the results will be awkwardly slanted, due to the nature of the questions pertaining to race–

    For instance, “How similar do you think Barack Obama is to most black Americans?” Erm… I don’t know him personally and have no clear idea of how to compare him to large swaths of people at once. How does one even answer that question in a non-racist way?

    A lot of the questions also seem to be slanted towards liberal social programs, which could automatically cause someone with a conservative political stance to report as “racist”. For example: “Most blacks who receive money from welfare programs could get along without it if they tried” — people who are unhappy with our welfare programs in general may be forced to agree to this, because they think that most of *everyone* receiving money from welfare could get along without it if they tried. Whether they’re right or wrong, this doesn’t require a racist attitude to answer affirmatively.

    I want to clarify that I *do* believe that racism is a continual problem in our society, in a non-rare way. The 56% strikes me as being high for explicit racist attitudes, but I am well aware that may just be my white privilege talking. Racist attitudes *must* be called out and dealt with, and we *must* pay attention to the real inequities that persist in our nation. I’m just concerned that *this particular study* seems very, very difficult to answer fairly (though the fact that anyone at all could say a negative trait applies “extremely well” to most Blacks or Hispanics is a travesty). We ought to be in prayer and repentance over the level of racism in our society–it is significant and real–but I admit I still am raising an eyebrow at this particular study.

  • BlendedyetPure

    Let’s start with definitions. Africans-Americans are according to DNA results collectively of 80% African admixture. That means they are a blend of different African groups that were forced naked onto ships three hundred years ago. The come from those that survived the horrors of the Middle Passage. After that there was toil and more toil with no pay under brutal conditions. The remaining 20% comes from primarily Europe with a small smattering of First Nations and Asia in the mix. The Atlas of Slavery tells us that 35,000 voyages carrying human beings left Africa.
    Which brings us to Obama. His American family is white slaveholders. He is not from the population that descended from the Middle Passage.

    So why do white people dislike African-Americans? The short answer is that white people do not care for what African-Americans look like and how they act. They of course will never admit this. They also cannot admit the great historic wrongs nor the current ones.

  • Well, it’s the day after the election. Anyone want to take another stab at this article and its implications for the Church now that there is “real” data based on voter turnout and actual votes?

  • James Neely

    To: Tom F; #21. I don’t care to continue the discussion of racial prejudice, but you asked a question in your response to my input #16.
    “If prejudice is still around, shouldn’t people be able to bring it up?” Absolutely! In fact, the reluctance to bring up this (one of the) elephant in the room is a big complaint of mine. My big concern here is that in describing the elephant, it is being done like the blind men describing the elephant as a tree trunk, a rope, etc. Political correctness has such a hold on so many people that race relations and problems cannot be described completely or objectively.
    It has now been around 50 years since this country made a significant change in national policy in trying to correct our race relations problems. There have been countless billions of dollars spent on innumerable programs to this end. Unfortunately, things will not get significantly better until both white and black find it no longer to their benefit to “stir the pot”. One only has to look and listen to some of the words coming from recent political candidates for public office to become very discouraged.
    Certainly, Christians should be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
    Jim Neely