“Nearly 7-in-10 Americans who say they most trust Fox News say that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”
A recent survey by The Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute, “What It Means to be an American: Attitudes in an Increasingly Diverse America Ten Years after 9/11″, sheds light on how Americans think about some cultural hot topics: Islam, immigration and discrimination. It’s this last one that caught my attention, particularly the opinions by different groups about reverse discrimination.
29% of blacks and 30% of Hispanics believe that reverse discrimination is now as big a problem as discrimination against minorities. 51% of whites believe this to be true along with 63% who sympathize with the Tea Party and 68% who most trust Fox News. When asked about problems facing the country, whites were equally likely (17%) to agree that discrimination and reverse discrimination were critical issues.
What do you make of these percentages?
Here’s what is noteworthy to me: Despite all statistical evidence to the contrary, there is a strong perception among many white people that they are experiencing the same discrimination as their fellow, non-white, citizens. The Newsweek cover story earlier this year on “The Beached White Male” illustrates how this perception plays out. Despite the disproportionate rates of unemployment among black and Hispanic people, the article instead focuses on the physic toll the recession exerts on unemployed white men, former CEO’s and executives struggling with their “manhood.”
How we come to these non-reality based perspectives is, not surprisingly, connected to our own race. More interesting is how important the news we consume is in how we understand the experience of our fellow citizens. While our media does not force us to think certain ways they are, apparently, good indicators of how seriously those of us who are white take the life experiences of our non-white neighbors. Trusting Fox News, in other words, says something about not trusting the experiences of black and Hispanic people who report that discrimination against minorities is a critical issue to them.
The survey also points out something that should be obvious: White people with regular contact with their non-white neighbors are more likely grant them more respect than are those with little or no contact. Additionally, the younger and more educated they are, the more likely these white people are to “have regular conversations” with blacks and Hispanics.
What might happen if those who believe reverse discrimination to be as critical as that experienced by minorities were to turn off Fox News and begin talking with their black and Hispanic neighbors? Would the flimsy “Beached White Male” narrative stand up to the real world experience of those who have known very real and very painful discrimination? Would claims of victimhood crumble in the presence of resiliency born of painful struggle?
A conviction that the Gospel provides a strong alternative to the divisive realities found in this survey is a driving force for those of us involved in multi-ethnic churches. Surely the reconciling Christ has provided all we need to bring us from isolation and discrimination into genuine, diverse relationships. Such relationships are an antidote to the fearful narratives peddled by cable news.
The fact that younger Americans are more likely to interact cross-culturally is, for me, evidence of a more hopeful future; one in which those of us in the majority culture take seriously the experiences of all our country’s citizens. In the meantime, however, it appears that we have plenty of partisan division and cultural stereotyping ahead of us. The upcoming election season will provide plenty of this evidence.
As always, I welcome your charitable comments. What am I missing? How do you interpret this survey?