Similarly, college-attending African-Americans are as likely as those without degrees to say that whites and blacks do not have an equal “opportunity for fair treatment by the police.” Overall, 84 percent of blacks said that treatment is unequal; just 13 percent believe it is equal. Among Hispanics, 63 percent see unequal treatment for African-Americans. Fewer whites see prejudice, but a majority, 51 percent, said that police treat African-Americans unfairly.
Interestingly, a higher percentage of African-Americans (81 percent) than Hispanics (63 percent) believe that police treat Hispanics unfairly. (Just 46 percent of whites believe the Hispanics are treated unfairly.) African-Americans are also much more likely than the other two groups to believe that police treat Asians unfairly, although less than a majority of blacks see prejudice toward that group.
THE INCOME GAP
The gap between white and minority perceptions about prejudice persists on another important front. In separate questions, the poll noted that the average income for Hispanics and African-Americans is well below the level for whites and asked respondents why that is so. To a striking extent, whites, Hispanics, and African-Americans offered similar explanations. Sixty-two percent of whites, 63 percent of Hispanics, and 66 percent of African-Americans said that a major reason for the income gap between blacks and whites is that “poverty, crime, and poor schools in neighborhoods where many African-Americans live make it hard for people to get ahead.” Whites, blacks, and Hispanics also clustered closely in agreeing that a major reason for the gap is that “too many African-Americans grow up in families without a father present.”
Likewise, almost identical proportions of whites and Hispanics agreed that a major reason for the income gulf between those two groups is that “too many immigrants without skills come to the U.S.,” and “too many Hispanics don’t speak English well.” (African-Americans were slightly less likely to blame either factor.) Marie Holcomb, an unemployed Hispanic teacher in Conroe, Texas, expressed the stern by-your-own-bootstraps inclinations of many Hispanics in the survey. “They should learn English,” she said of newly arriving immigrants. “There’s too much free education out there not to learn it.”
On one front, though, the poll captured a wide divergence between whites and minorities. Whether considering the income disparity between whites and African-Americans, or that between whites and Hispanics, fewer than half as many whites as African-Americans or Hispanics identified racial prejudice as a major factor. When assessing either gap, more than half of African-Americans and Hispanics considered discrimination a big cause. In each case, only about one-fourth of whites agreed.
Like a leak that spreads from a small crack, other differences multiplied from that initial departure. When asked whether “our country has made the changes needed to give racial minorities equal rights with whites,” whites split almost exactly in half: 46 percent said yes, and 44 percent said that “our country needs to continue making changes to give racial minorities equal rights.” But 76 percent of African-Americans, and 74 percent of Hispanics said that the nation needs to continue making changes to ensure equality.
That contrast shaped the racial differences on a follow-up question about what single approach would do the most to narrow the income difference between whites and minorities. All three groups largely agreed on one remedy: Almost two-fifths of whites and African-Americans and about one-third of Hispanics said that graduating more minority young people from high school and college would do the most good. But nearly one-fourth of both African-Americans and Hispanics said that the most effective strategy would be “more efforts to combat racial discrimination in the workplace.” Fewer than one in 12 whites agreed. African-Americans and Hispanics were also slightly more likely than whites to believe that increasing integration of housing and schools was crucial.
Whites, in turn, were far more likely to respond that the key to closing the income gaps was more personal responsibility in minority communities. Significant numbers of Hispanics (about one-fourth) and African-Americans (about one-fifth) also endorsed that sentiment, but among whites it was the most common answer, chosen by more than two in five. “I don’t think it’s a race issue,” said John Brissette, a white computer technician in Cumberland, R.I., who is now on disability leave. “It’s more of a personal-responsibility issue. I think it’s a lot of the parents’ faults. I don’t think it has to do with the economy. Every race has a lot of opportunities.”
The roles somewhat reversed on responses to a question that explored educational gaps between the races. On this issue, whites were less likely to cite personal responsibility than minorities were. When asked why smaller percentages of African-Americans and Hispanics than whites obtain high school diplomas and college degrees, more Hispanics (63 percent) and African-Americans (53 percent) than whites (49 percent) said that the difference resulted from minority young people not valuing education as much as whites or Asians. Whites were also less likely than minorities to cite economic factors such as inadequate school funding or crimped family budgets that force young people to quit school. The most common answer among whites was that poverty and crime in minority neighborhoods make it tougher for young people there to learn.