The poll results come during a month in which: white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly committed one of the worst hate crimes in recent history; a Pew analysis of census data revealed persistent and wide disparities in the numbers of impoverished Black and white children; and, in popular culture, a new book by Harper Lee launched a nationwide discussion over the transformation of American cultural icon Atticus Finch from hero to bigot.
More than 50% of white and Black people in the United States believe that race relations are generally bad right now.
The poll found something very interesting about how Americans feel about race relations on macro and micro levels. While nearly 80% of whites and Blacks believe that race relations in the United States are either getting worse or staying the same, the vast majority of whites and Blacks believe that race relations in their own communities are generally good.
"The general assumption is that people interact with their neighbors, and this interaction might translate into more positive views of people from other racial and ethnic groups," Kris Marsh, PhD, a sociologist and professor at the University of Maryland, told Refinery29 in a email.
"However, in general, whites and Blacks live in highly racially segregated [neighborhoods] and have limited interactions with those of the opposite race. This lack of interaction could be the undercurrent to this disparity," Dr. Marsh added.
In contrast to opinions about race relations nationwide, the vast majority of whites and Blacks believe that race relations in their own communities are generally good.
Dr. Marsh says she worries that Americans believed the election of a "biracial president" would "relieve us of historical transgressions" like Jim Crow laws and slavery. Of course, she explains, this was not the case. Dr. Marsh believes that the U.S. continues to suffer from inherent "structural racism" that is "set up to disadvantage Blacks and other minorities...and gives preferential treatment and power to whites."
I think in some ways, [Barack Obama's election] made him the racial messiah.
In response to the question about cuts to early voting, 53% of whites and 40% of Blacks felt they hadn't heard enough about the issue to respond, while 46% of Blacks felt the changes were intended to thwart them. As for programs to benefit minorities, 51% of whites said they were in favor of such initiatives, in contrast to 83% of Blacks.