Poll Explores Racial Tensions Among Minority Groups

By Christine Senteno, New America Media
Friday December 14, 2007

The first-of-its-kind poll on race relations between blacks, Latinos and Asians, released yesterday in Washington, D.C., revealed that while ugly stereotypes still hold strong between groups, a majority of those in each group said they should put aside their differences to work toward building better communities. 

All groups polled said overwhelmingly that racial tensions in the nation are a very important problem. 

The poll shows that high levels of segregation still exist which underlie and support negative stereotypes. More than 75 percent of blacks and Latinos attend religious services with their own kind. More than 65 percent of blacks and Latinos went to school with those of the same ethnicity or race. More than 50 percent of all three groups say most of their friends are of the same race. 

Latinos (44 percent) and Asians (47 percent) said they are generally “afraid of blacks because they are responsible for most of the crime.” Blacks (51 percent) and Asians (34 percent) said Latino immigrants are taking away jobs, housing and political power from the black community. Latinos (46 percent) and blacks (53 percent) said Asian business owners do not treat them with respect. 

“The sponsors of the poll strongly believe the best way to move forward is by identifying the problems and initiating a dialogue that can bring ethnic groups together in their fight for equality and against discrimination,” explained New America Media Executive Director Sandy Close. 

Pollster Sergio Bendixen, who conducted the nationwide survey of over 1,100 blacks, Asians and Latinos in seven different languages, said the poll highlights the need for ethnic media to play a bigger role in facilitating this dialogue. “The study indicates that a majority of the African Americans and a significant percentage of Hispanics and Asian Americans consider the coverage of problems related to race in the ethnic media to be irresponsible,” Bendixen noted. “At the same time, overwhelming majorities of the three groups think that the ethnic media have a responsibility to do everything in their power to improve race relations.” 

Mainstream media coverage of race relations was not much better, according to those interviewed. Sixty-six percent of blacks surveyed said the coverage of problems related to racial tensions by mainstream media was irresponsible, followed by Latinos at 43 percent and Asians at 30 percent. 

Other findings showed that groups with a higher immigrant population expressed a far greater optimism about achieving the American dream. A majority of Latinos (74 percent) and Asians (64 percent) believes that if you work hard, you will succeed in the United States. In contrast, more than 60 percent of blacks said they do not believe the American dream works for them. 

These findings show that the immigrant brings optimism to the mix while blacks bring a hard-won realism, Bendixen said. 

Yet the poll also found important commonalities between the three groups: All of the poll respondents shared values of patriotism, spirituality, and spending time with family over making money. 

And despite racial tensions, the poll revealed a strong sense of optimism among all three groups. Respondents overwhelmingly shared the belief that they should put aside their differences to work together on issues that affect their communities, that racial tensions will get better in the next 10 years and that the United States would be better off if their were more ethnic groups in positions of authority. 

Author Richard Rodriguez pointed out that other ethnic groups see blacks as the pathfinders of civil rights issues; their battles have benefited all ethnic groups. Asian parents, meanwhile, are admired for their strong participation in their children’s education. “In a time when womanizing politicians are talking about family values,” Rodriguez said, “the immigrant brings real family values to the mix.” 

“This leaves some possibility for groups to learn something from one another,” he added. 

The younger generation, meanwhile, presents even more reason for this optimism. Young people increasingly identify themselves as “Blaxicans” and “Negropanese,” for example, said Rodriguez, reflecting a constantly evolving notion of race. Unlike in earlier generations, a majority of young people today (65 percent) have dated outside of their race. 

Megan Malabunga, 16, is one example. A Pacific Islander from Los Angeles, Malabunga says she has Filipino friends and black friends, and her boyfriend is Latino. She says race or ethnicity aren’t factors in choosing her friends; she hangs out with most of her friends because they dress the same way as she does. 

Chris Wailoo, a 44-year-old black professional and an immigrant who lives in Washington, D.C., says he thinks working together with other ethnic groups is a great thing but he does not believe it is going to be easy. Generally speaking, he said, blacks do not agree with Lou Dobbs’ immigration rhetoric, and yet he did not see many blacks at the immigration marches. 

New America Media’s poll was co-sponsored by nine founding ethnic media partners: Asian Journal, Asian Week, Korea Times, Philippine News, La Opinion / Impremedia, Nguoi Viet News, Sing Tao Daily, Sun Reporter, and World Journal. 

The sample was designed to be representative of the adult population of the three major racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Hispanic respondents were interviewed in English or Spanish, and Asian American respondents were interviewed in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese or Tagalog.