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Most Americans Feel Racism Is Getting Worse, Poll Shows

Protesters march against racism. (Debra Sweet / Flickr Creative Commons)

Sixty-four percent of Americans believe race relations are a major problem in American life today, according to a new poll from NBC News and Survey Monkey. Forty-five percent believe race relations are getting worse, and 41 percent say Americans don’t talk about the issue enough.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic in the poll might be that 47 percent of respondents said the subject of race relations never comes up in conversation with family and friends.

The poll was released the same day that 8,000 Starbucks stores closed nationwide for the franchise’s highly publicized bias training session, and the same week that Roseanne Barr’s racist Twitter rants did what her years of publicly aired racist comments could not: get her show canceled by ABC.

The poll also made headlines amid others detailing multiple incidents in which black Americans were either arrested or had the police called on them for waiting for friends in a coffee shop, napping in a dorm common room, or even barbecuing. It seems strange that at a time when racism is all over the news, and a company with almost 14,000 stores across the United States decides it needs to address racial bias, Americans are still unwilling to discuss racism among themselves.

While the poll didn’t break down the answers to every question by race and gender, clues as to why this is the case may come from respondents’ answers to other questions, particularly regarding whether blacks specifically are treated unfairly in society and soliciting their estimates of the amount of time they spend interacting with people from multiple races.

Sixty-four percent of respondents may think racism is increasing, but 30 percent of white respondents said it’s not a serious problem. Additionally, even though majorities of all races surveyed said they interact socially with friends and acquaintances of all races, 39 percent of white people said they spend most of their social time with other white people.

The report doesn’t say so (and this is a personal observation), but if whites are spending time primarily with other whites who don’t appear to believe racism is a serious issue, perhaps it follows that they would feel less compelled to engage in discussions about race.

The poll, as Washington Post writer Eugene Scott noted in his analysis, also did not ask why respondents thought race relations are getting worse, or whether they’re hopeful that relations could be improved. That answer, Scott concludes, “could be telling in terms of how Americans view the responsibilities of government, business and even themselves in fixing what they clearly see as a problem.”

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Ilana Novick
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