A majority of whites questioned in a nationwide survey said they believe blacks and Hispanics are likely to prefer welfare to hard work and tend to be lazier than whites, more prone to violence, less intelligent and less patriotic.
Authors of the survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, said the results released yesterday show that despite progress in race relations since the 1950s, whites' negative images of blacks and other minorities continue to be pervasive.
"Since the beginning of the civil rights movement there was great emphasis on ending segregation and creating a series of laws that treated all racial, religious and ethnic groups equally," said Tom W. Smith of the research center, who wrote the report. The feeling was "we'll intermingle and we'll get to know one another and the stereotypes will drop away."
Instead, strong negative beliefs about minorities continue to underlie the policy debate on many racial issues, according to the survey.
The beliefs in part explain white resistance to government help such as affirmative action and quotas for minority groups, and the opposition of some whites to race-mingling and neighborhood integration -- even though they may support equality in theory.
"All this says is that in part the reason why people are against affirmative action or quotas is that they have images of minorities that brand minorities as undeserving of help, that is they think they are less hard-working and they think they are more likely to want to live off welfare," Smith said.
The sources of these feelings are historically complex and rooted deeply in the culture, said Lawrence Bobo, professor of sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles and head of a committee that designed the survey questions.
"Once you have well ensconced some system of unequal relations between majority and minority groups, a set of ideas that sort of justifies that societal order are likely to take shape, and that will include a set of ideas about the traits of minority group members that putatively explain why it is they should occupy a lesser, subordinated status," Bobo said.
The survey series, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, has focused on various social issues almost yearly for two decades, and its methodology is respected.
The latest survey was conducted between February and April of last year. Individuals in randomly selected households in 300 communities were asked to rate the behavioral or personality characteristics of whites, Jews, black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and southern whites.
Of the 1,372 survey respondents, about 170 were black, 50 were Hispanic, 30 were Jewish, fewer than 10 were Asian and the rest were white, including 330 southern whites. Because the sample included so few minorities, their views on whites were considered statistically insignificant. Respondents were presented with a scale on which to rate each group.
In presenting their perceptions of black Americans, a majority of the white, Hispanic and other non-black respondents -- 78 percent -- said blacks are more likely than whites to "prefer to live off welfare" and less likely to "prefer to be self-supporting."
Further, 62 percent said blacks are more likely to be lazy; 56 percent said they are violence-prone; 53 percent said they are less intelligent; 51 percent said they think blacks are less patriotic.
Hispanics were rated at equally negative levels. Among non-Hispanics, 74 percent said Hispanics are more likely to prefer to live off welfare; 56 percent thought them more lazy, 50 percent thought them more violence-prone, 55 percent thought them less intelligent and 61 percent thought them less patriotic.
Thirty-four percent of the respondents said Asians are likely to be lazy, 30 percent said they are violence-prone, 36 percent said they are less intelligent, 46 percent said they prefer to live off welfare, and 55 percent said they are less patriotic.
On many of the indicators in the survey, whites rated Jews higher than themselves, with the exception of patriotism. Overall, each group rated itself significantly more positively than whites rated it.
This persistence of negative racial images was a pervasive theme yesterday as the National Urban League presented its 16th annual State of Black America report.
It documented, as it has in previous years, the spectrum of economic, political, educational, social and cultural disadvantages still faced by blacks.
The report reiterated the league's call for an "urban Marshall plan" to bring jobs, economic development and anti-crime measures to inner cities. And Urban League President John Jacob said the civil rights measure that President George Bush called a "quota" bill and vetoed last fall is "a litmus test of America's resolve that it is unacceptable to deny job opportunities to people because they are black" or members of other minority groups.
Ironically, however, such calls for help from representatives of black communities, while they are based on real and legitimate needs, may serve to reinforce the negative perceptions held by whites, Bobo said.
It is a fact that a disproportionate number of blacks are incarcerated, that blacks are victims and perpetrators of a disproportionate number of homicides, are disporportionately represented on welfare, and that a disproportionate number of U.S. blacks live in poverty.
In these facts, those whites who are already prone to hold negative images of blacks can find a "kernel of truth" to support their views, Bobo said.
Bobo and Smith said possible solutions to this persisting racism include better education of whites about minority groups and more interaction. Smith suggested that whites need to see more minority role models whose success defies stereotypes.
In addition, Jacob and Derrick Bell, a Harvard University law professor who wrote an essay for the Urban League, said whites need to understand that their negative views of minorities and the resulting discrimination have a direct economic impact in terms of potentially lost productivity as the work force over time becomes populated by fewer whites and more minorities.