The way we most commonly picture racism occurring in our minds is at the flashpoint of life-changing experiences: A police officer in action making a split-second decision in a life-or-death situation…a real estate broker deciding which homes to show a family…a manager deciding which candidate to hire for a role.
But another way to conceptualize racism is that people, over time, form views and opinions about the world around them that heavily influences the outcome of those quick moments. The entirety of the police officer’s and the Black suspect’s life experiences intersect for that one short moment. The same is true of the real estate broker and the Black family, and the manager choosing between white and Black candidates.
That intersection is what this research is all about. As part of our first-of-its-kind CityView series, Suffolk University and USA TODAY have been collaborating to poll residents of large American cities about the issues facing them—with a focus on perception of race in America. Over the last several months, we’ve polled the residents of Milwaukee, Detroit, Los Angeles, Louisville, and Oklahoma City—cities that are geographically, politically, economically, and racially diverse, but whose residents share views, especially along racial divides.
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Across all 5 surveyed cities, Black respondents were more likely than other races to rate their cities lower, think they were stopped by police more frequently, and believe police use force even when unnecessary.
Each city has its own dark superlative. Worst place to live: Milwaukee, WI. 80% of Black residents rated Milwaukee as a “fair” or “poor” place to live while only 28% rated it an “excellent” or “good” place to live. Most forceful police department: Los Angeles, CA. 69% of Black respondents said police use force unnecessarily and 71% said they wanted to move some police funding to social services and mental health. Treats Black residents most differently: Louisville, KY. 60% of Black respondents felt they were treated differently because of their race—significantly higher than respondents who identified as white (39%), Hispanic (21%) or “Other” (29%). Furthermore, among those who felt they were treated differently because of their race, 92% of Black respondents felt they were treated worse, not better, compared to 16% for white respondents.
The Black residents of Louisville, KY are not alone. Among those that feel treated differently because of their race, Blacks respondents generally feel treated worse: across-the-board over 80% felt that they were treated worse simply because they identified as Black.
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However, while many Black respondents consistently felt like they were treated worse because they are Black, fewer white respondents felt that they were treated better because they are white. In Milwaukee, 60% of all Black respondents felt treated worse while 44% of all white respondents felt treated better because of their race. In Louisville, that split was a more drastic 55% vs. 29%. In Oklahoma City, the divide was 48% Black treated worse vs. 22% white treated better.
Perhaps this dichotomy is at the center of the debate around American race relations: Black Americans can more tangibly feel the disadvantages of being Black, while white Americans do not feel like they are advantaged in any notable way. Bridging this experiential divide could go a long way.
Despite the frustrations, most Black residents of these cities do not support “defund the police” as many progressive Democrats and activists have been calling for. Not only do most oppose the slogan “defund the police”, but the fraction of Black residents who oppose is close to the fraction of the overall population that opposes in all five cities.
One additional nugget from these polls is that more often than not, the views of Hispanic, Asian, and multiracial respondents aligned more with white respondents than Black respondents. Thus CityView indicates that if mixed-race marriages were to increase, the views of Americans on these issues would likely converge as more of our different life experiences collide. Indeed, according to Pew Research, the long-term rise in intermarriages over time—especially among those who are college-educated—will accelerate as more U.S. inhabitants identify as multi-racial.
I believe that localized research, exemplified in the Suffolk-USA TODAY CityView project, is underutilized as a tool to help understand and solve race-related issues in the United States. Statistics from cities like these are essential to help educate local mayors, police chiefs, school administrators, students, and the public as to what the real problems are today and how they can be solved. Local media can be a stakeholder by copying the Suffolk University/USA TODAY model to provide personal stories that emerge from the research, and how they can further improve race relations in every city.