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Communications tipsHow Do Americans View One Another? The Persistence of Racial/Ethnic Stereotypes

In national surveys, fewer and fewer Americans admit openly to holding racist views--for instance the view that African Americans are less intelligent than white Americans. Many polls have attempted to measure racial and ethnic stereotyping by presenting declarative statements of negative attributions and asking respondents to agree or disagree with them. Whether they may hold these views or not, many survey respondents don't want to appear obviously racist and will therefore disagree with blatantly racist statements.

A more nuanced study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, however, found that many Americans still do harbor beliefs about racial and ethnic minorities based on racist stereotypes. The NORC study involved a questionnaire with a range of possible answers. Respondents were asked to evaluate on a scale of one to seven characteristics of a variety of groups--whites, Jews, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/as, and southern whites. By offering this continuum of gradations from one to seven, this survey elicited evidence of much more racial prejudice than has been found in other national surveys.

The survey was administered to a cross-section of about 1,200 Americans and asked such questions as:

  • "Do people in these groups tend to be unintelligent or tend to be intelligent?"
  • "Do people in these groups tend to be hard-working or tend to be lazy?"
  • "Do people in these groups tend to prefer to be self-supporting or do they tend to prefer to live off welfare?"

With only one exception, minority groups were evaluated more negatively than whites in general. The one exception is Jews who were rated more favorably than whites on all characteristics except patriotism. African Americans and Latino/as were ranked last or next to last on almost every characteristic measured.

For instance, in response to the question about intelligence, African Americans and Latino/as were essentially tied at the bottom. Respondents evaluated African Americans as the laziest and as the group with the highest preference for living off welfare.

More than half the survey respondents rated African Americans as less intelligent than whites. Fifty-seven percent of non-African Americans rated African Americans as less intelligent than whites and thirty percent of African Americans themselves rated African Americans as less intelligent than whites. Sixty-two percent of the entire sample rated African Americans as lazier than whites and more than three out of four survey respondents said that African Americans are more inclined than whites to prefer welfare over work.

One survey author said that he "didn't expect nearly as much stereotyping as [they] found." He suggests further that the study refutes the notion that Americans are approaching a color and creed-blind society. One startling finding of this study is that so many people are willing and able to rate group members on the basis of their race and/or ethnicity at all. Survey non-response was very low.

The NORC study also attempted to evaluate whether or not the images people have about racial/ethnic groups influence other attitudes and behaviors toward those groups. The study found that, indeed, these images do affect attitudes and behaviors in a number of key areas of social policy. For instance, ethnic images seem to be related to the social distance that people wish to maintain between themselves and other groups. Images of African Americans in the areas of work and welfare are related to support for affirmative action programs and government spending on special programs perceived to disproportionately benefit African Americans.

In summary, the survey authors conclude that "images about ethnic groups are significant predictors of support for racial integration programs...and desired social distance." As the survey authors conclude, "most Americans see most minority groups in a decidedly negative light on a number of important characteristics....[and] ethnic images remain important determinants of inter-group attitudes."

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New research is the "news hook" for many stories that appear in newspapers, magazines, and on radio and television. This kind of research is often the launching point for both news stories and commentary. If you have new research or can create it by soliciting students' views on these sorts of topics, you may have newsworthy information.

Work with your public information office to develop a strategy to disseminate this information. Consider issuing a news release, booking interviews for the researcher(s) and students willing to discuss their views, or writing an op/ed on the subject. By doing so, you can put the results in perspective for the public.

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