White and Black Views: A USA Today Balancing Act

USA Today reports on a summer Gallup/USA Today poll on “race relations,” the conventional media term that dances around without naming the actual reality of systemic racism. They surveyed 702 whites, 608 blacks, and 502 Hispanics. The reporters make these opening claims:

The survey paints a mixed picture of race relations. The racial divide over whether African Americans are treated fairly hasn’t abated, and blacks and whites are deeply divided on how much of a role bias plays in problems faced by the African American community. On the other hand, a record 58% of Americans say race relations “eventually will be worked out,” while 38% say they will “always be a problem.”

The reporters use this weak opening that tries to put a pretty face on racism. After doing the usual balancing of “bad” racial news with “good” racial news–that is after framing the story from a version of the white racial frame that wants to play down racism–the reporter then notes some troubling and revealing data:

Two-thirds of non-Hispanic whites say they are satisfied with the way blacks are treated in the USA; two-thirds of blacks say they are dissatisfied. Most blacks identify racial discrimination as a major factor in a list of problems the African American community faces, including shorter life expectancies than whites and a higher likelihood of going to prison. Most whites call racism a minor factor or not a factor in those situations.

This “analysis” too is firmly framed from a version of the white racial frame. Why should we treat whites as valid sources on the extent of racial discrimination faced by black Americans? Why are there not many more questions on this discrimination faced by African Americans and reporting on how, when, and where they experience it? Why is there no comment on how out of touch many whites are on this discrimination faced by African Americans? Again, we have another form of white-framed balancing, which considers white answers to superficial survey questions on antiblack discrimination to be as important as black answers!

The reporters then, again, try to put a pretty face on U.S. racism:

The gap between blacks and whites in assessing race relations seems to be narrowing. Last year, 75% of whites and 55% of blacks said black-white relations were good, a 20-point gap. This year, that difference of opinion drops to 9 points. . . . Eight in 10 whites and seven in 10 blacks say civil rights for blacks have improved in the past decade.

Clearly, survey researchers often have a limited understanding of racial matters in this country, as is revealed in such superficial questioning. Why not ask more sophisticated and probing questions that get at the major differences in the way that black and white Americans see these issues of “race relations” (systemic racism) and civil rights progress? Why not do some interviewing on these matters? I am pretty sure they would find major differences if they did in-depth interviewing or focus groups.

And how about some more insightful analysis? For example, an African American can of course see improvement if the recent racial past was one of the lynchings and other extreme brutality and oppression of the legal segregation era that lasted into the 1970s—indeed, which ended a rather short time ago when many of us were already adults. It can still, of course, be a very bad situation today as other answers indicate.

This tepid “racial divide” language suggests just how white-framed, and thus out of touch with reality, the maintain mass media are. The so-called “racial divide” is the result of systemic racism created and perpetrated by whites — a system that has now operated over some 400 years in this country, yet it is very rare for this systemic racism, its racial hierarchy, or it rationalizing white racial frame to be critically analyzed in our whitewashed media. Is it a type of “collective psychosis” when large groups of people, like many whites inside and outside of the media, are way out of touch with our still highly racialized reality?

(Note: There is also no significant analysis of the Latino responses in this article. Also, the racist comments posted on the USA Today website by readers after their article contradict the “good race relations” approach in the article.)


  1. Most telling is that nearly 50% of whites concede that racism might play some role in the higher number of blacks involved in the criminal justice system, yet many still fail to recognize how life expectancy, education and jobs (and the economy) intersect with the criminal justice system.

  2. I always find it interesting that “race-relations” questions are confounded by “systematic racism” questions. If someone asked me about black-white relations (as a black woman), I would probably say that they are good – there are few riots in the streets, we greet each other civilly, etc. I can “relate” to white people in most situations. But to systematic racism, I would say it is alive and thriving. They really are two different questions that measure different things.

  3. Joe

    Marvin and gradmommy, your points about (the white failure to see) the systemic realities and linkages are right on target. We have been taught a framing in this country that accents individualism, individual failures and responsibility, to an extreme point that by intention takes the heat off our racist foundation and system.

  4. I agree with Joe’s point about individualism, but I find it funny how American whites detect a grievance frame in other people but are oblivious about their own grievances. Like the “Europe doesn’t appreciate all the U.S. has done” meme, for instance. While at the same time harboring a stance of deservedness….i.e. “we’re entitled to oil!”

  5. gradmommy. I can definitely get down with what I think you’re getting at regarding the terminology. But I think we’re ceding rhetorical and thus mental ground when we say that race relations are good but systemic racism still exists. Race relations are horrible.

    Relating is more than the superficial greeting on the street or cordiality at the workplace. Human relations covers a lot of ground that doesn’t seem to be being acknowledged. There are many things to touch on but a big one that covers a lot of different areas is white racism in the arena of sex and love. Sex, arguably the most basic of human relations, in that it is completely natural, and as the means of procreation comes even before the social components of our humanity. What can we learn from white racism in the arena of sexual and intimate relations? In an effective racial caste society, one cannot pretend that the upper caste is rejected by the lower caste in the same way that the upper rejects the lower. Power dynamics dictate that the upper is the one that does the rejecting. Properly understood in terms of power, which is what racism is about, look at the degree of social, intimate and sexual segregation in US society.

    Then ask yourself what is the state of race relations. Whites don’t consider Blacks to be suitable as partners. Since we know whites consider other whites to be fully human, this racial consignment in the realm of sex and love is a reminder, a daily reminder that whites don’t consider non-whites (and particularly Blacks) to be fully human. And this fundamental belief is reflected in the erotic and sexual choices made every day along racial lines. This is a monstrously huge part of everyday relations between the races.

    A cursory glance at how whites treat non-whites when it comes to the most basic and important of considerations tells us the true state of racial relating in the society. It could be worse but right now it is still quite horrid. Judge by the sexual decisions whites make. There are exceptions (obviously) but as a group it is quite clear that whites consider Blacks to be not fully human.

  6. GDAWG

    IS I see your point in the issue of what is human versus being not fully human as it relates to Blacks. But I contextualized the matter of race relations somewhat differently. That is, as what is human versus what is “inhuman.” Consider the after effects of the interaction between the socalled “humans” and persons who are judged as not fully human. That is, look at the land and personhood as peoples issues. One would think that character and state of which thoses who have considered themselves human andthe deplorable manner in which they have treated those deemd not fully human, while expropiating their humanistic culture and values, and land, is a classic example of cognitive dissonance. An mental illness of sorts. In short, in this instance, a case of blaming the victims for their own exploitation and genocide at the hands of others. In any event, getting to your main point, using your example of the anemic Black and White intersexual dynamic, what explains the high intermarriage rate between nonwhite Asians and Hispanics, especially between white men with regards to the former, and white women with the latter, as per US census data?


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