Survey Finds Friction Among Minority Groups

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Relations among African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans are fraught with tension and negative stereotypes, but the three groups share core values and a desire to get along better, according to a poll released yesterday by the nonprofit group New America Media.

The survey found that many members of the three groups feel more comfortable doing business with whites than with members of the other groups and that an overwhelming majority of each group views racial tension as a "very important problem."

It also found that immigrants are generally much more optimistic about achieving the American dream than are African Americans and that far fewer African Americans than Asians or Hispanics think that every American has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Underscoring what the survey's leaders called "unfair and ugly stereotypes" among ethnic and minority groups, more than 40 percent of Hispanics and Asians said they are "generally afraid" of African Americans and associated them with crime.

A similar proportion of Hispanics and African Americans said most Asian business owners "do not treat us with respect," and one-third of Asians and half of African Americans said Latin American immigrants are taking away jobs and other benefits from the black community.

On the other hand, the telephone poll of 1,105 people in all 50 states, evenly divided among the three groups, found that they have a great deal in common, including strong feelings of patriotism and religious belief. Most significantly, more than 85 percent of responders said they should put aside their differences and work together to help their communities.

Sergio Bendixen, who presented the poll results at the National Press Club, said that the fact that all three groups live in relative isolation has contributed to the tensions and stereotypes and that more interaction would do much to reduce the problem.

"If you share an afternoon of baseball and a barbecue, you are less likely to be afraid of people or think they came to steal your job," Bendixen said. He said the issue of interethnic tensions is something "everyone knows about but everyone wants to sweep under the rug."

Richard Rodriguez, a prominent California writer who spoke at the presentation, said he was glad to see that at a time of strong emotion and controversy about immigrants, those responding to the survey expressed strong civic values and enthusiasm about succeeding in America.

"Americans have forgotten how much the immigrant brings to this country: a basic optimism about the possibilities of changing and improving your life, as well as a noticeable patriotism," Rodriguez said.

Bendixen, commenting on the much lower degree of hope expressed by African Americans, said that it could stem from their "more realistic" assessment of their long-term prospects and that it was linked to their concerns about Hispanic newcomers. "If you are unhappy at home, you are less likely to like new neighbors coming in," he said.

Among the survey's more revealing findings was the high degree of social segregation that persists among immigrant groups as well as African Americans. A large proportion of all three groups said most of their friends are in their ethnic or racial group. Even larger percentages of Hispanics and African Americans said people in their church or school are from their group.

Dating patterns followed a similar path. More than 70 percent of Hispanics and Asians and 61 percent of African Americans said they had never dated someone outside their group. That finding contrasted sharply with a 2006 poll of young people in California, also conducted by New America Media, in which 65 percent of respondents said they had dated someone of a different race.

Still, despite the groups' isolation and prejudices, the poll found that the three groups have some positive opinions about one another. More than 58 percent of African Americans and Asians said that Hispanic culture and values have "enriched the quality of life for all Americans."

And although a majority of responders in all three groups said there is "a lot of discrimination" against their community, more than 65 percent of Hispanics and Asians said African Americans had helped all ethnic and racial groups by "leading the fight for civil rights and against discrimination."

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