Most Americans agree that institutional racism is real and that change is needed
Events in Kenosha underline rift in lived experience of white Americans and people of color.
On August 23, Jacob Blake, a 29-year old Black man, was left paralyzed after a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer shot him seven times in the back. It was the latest instance of a person of color being seriously injured or dying in what ought to have been a routine interaction with police. The reaction was immediate and powerful, sparking protests in the streets and condemnation from political leaders and professional athletes alike.
Blake’s shooting is set against a backdrop of months of national protest against police violence and racial inequality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police just three months ago.
Beyond the more extreme instances of violence seen in places like Kenosha and Minneapolis, many people of color report experiencing racism during their daily lives. Nearly half of all Black people say they have been the victim of racial profiling, while 40% say they have experienced minor slights or subtle discrimination, according to NPR/Ipsos polling. Hispanic and Asian Americans are also far more likely to report similar experiences than their white counterparts.
Today, the majority of Americans (58%) acknowledge that racism is built into the American economy, government, and educational system — but this view is unevenly held across racial groups. While 83% of Black Americans agree that the system is stacked against people of color, just 50% of white Americans say the same.
Furthermore, while the majority (again, 58%) say that the nation needs to continue to change to create an equal playing field for Black Americans, white Americans are less likely to believe this is the case. A strong majority (89%) of Black Americans believe that the nation needs to evolve, compared to just 51% of white Americans. Perhaps the starkest example of the racial divide in the NPR/Ipsos poll is on the question of reparations. There is a nearly 60-point gap between white and Black Americans on favoring reparations for the descendants of enslaved Americans; white Americans are significantly less favorable toward the idea.
White Americans’ views tend to diverge by their level of educational attainment. For instance, white Americans without a college degree are significantly less likely to believe that white people have an advantage over people of color.
White America is similarly divided around whether further action needs to be taken to combat racism. A majority of college-educated whites (61%) agree that the nation must continue to make changes to address racial inequity. Those without a college degree see it differently, with 45% in agreement that more change is necessary and 55% of the opinion that the nation has progressed far enough.
That divergence in view on what else needs to be done is carried forward in disparate views of the Black Lives Matter movement. A grassroots organization advocating against police brutality and racial violence, “Black lives matter” became a rallying cry for activists after the 2013 death of Black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Though the majority of Americans (53%) support the Black Lives Matter movement, it carries controversial connotations for some, a divide most apparent across partisan lines but also by educational attainment. White Americans without a college degree tend to be less sympathetic to BLM than their college-educated counterparts.
On the question of racially motivated violence and police brutality in particular, Ipsos polling conducted throughout the summer shows that many Americans support police reform, though they stop short of wanting to “defund the police.” Last week’s NPR/Ipsos poll found that while the majority of Americans are optimistic that police conduct towards Black Americans will improve in the coming years, Black Americans are more doubtful. Just 49% of Black Americans believe that police conduct will get better, compared to 73% of white Americans.
Tensions are high. The protests, Black Lives Matter movement, and police violence are animating Americans of all races and political stripes. Floyd’s death inspired a renewed national reckoning around what W.E.B. DuBois once called the “color line,” and Kenosha only underscored the rifts that still remain. Yet as the nation seeks to make strides on racial equity, it’s evident that not all see the situation through the same lens.