How Black Americans See Discrimination : Code Switch A new survey from NPR shows that black people often feel differently about discrimination depending on their gender, how old they are, how much they earn and whether they live in cities or suburbs.

How Black Americans See Discrimination

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People of all races in the United States see racial discrimination regularly, but black Americans report it at the highest rates. This is according to a new survey from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Gene Demby of NPR's Code Switch team has been reporting on this data, and he spoke to our co-host Rachel Martin about this statistic. Ninety-two percent of African-Americans surveyed say they have felt discrimination themselves or they've seen it happen to others like them.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: So that statistic - in some ways, that's not really that surprising, right?

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: No, not surprising at all.

MARTIN: What's your take on this?

DEMBY: Well, you can see discrimination against African-Americans everywhere. It's backed up by the data. You can see it in housing and policing. Black people, for example, live in areas with more concentrated poverty, even when they are higher earners. Black Americans are more likely to go to segregated and underfunded schools, more likely to be stopped by the police and more likely to be searched once they are stopped.

MARTIN: So their responses to the survey are - they're a reflection of that reality that they're living.

DEMBY: That's right.

MARTIN: There are, though, some really interesting details in the data. What did you find?

DEMBY: Yeah. Within that 92 percent, which is near unanimous, there's a range of experiences. First of all, where you lived mattered in how you answer these questions. People who lived in cities were more likely to see discrimination as driven by institutional factors like policy and laws as opposed to, like, individual bias and racism. Gender matters here a lot, too. Men were more likely than women to say that they'd personally experienced discrimination in encounters with the police. And on policing, younger people were more likely to say that they or a family member had been unfairly stopped by the police because they were black. People who live in the suburbs and people who lived in the South and Midwest, interestingly, were more likely to report that people in their communities were discriminated against by the police.

MARTIN: Why would that be the case, thinking about the difference in policing in the perception of that between suburbanites and city-dwellers? I mean, what do you make of that?

DEMBY: Yeah, it made our antenna twitch, too. And one of the things that could explain what's going on here is cars. Right? So...


DEMBY: The most common reason that anyone has contact with the police is by a traffic stop, right?

MARTIN: Traffic stops, yeah.

DEMBY: And that's according to the BJS, the Bureau of Justice Statistics. So it could just mean that black people who live in places where cars are more essential to everyday life are just having more contact with the police than people who live in denser, pre-car cities like the Northeast.

MARTIN: So you wrote about this for Code Switch. And you said that the survey results might actually be underestimating discrimination in some way. How so?

DEMBY: Yeah, yeah. So this study is about perceptions of discrimination. And one of the things that we've seen in other studies is that there are so many ways that, when discrimination happens to you, it's often invisible. Like, it's hard to see up close. Even when you're, like, in it or even when this - you're having...

MARTIN: Even if you're the one who's being discriminated against.

DEMBY: Absolutely. One great example of this is this study by the Urban Institute that came out a few years ago. What they did is they took testers - they were actors - and they sent them to real estate offices and rental offices to inquire about homes or renting apartments.


DEMBY: Some of them were white. Some of them were people of color. And what they found, no matter where they sent these testers, was that, routinely, the people of color were being shown fewer homes and were less likely to get discounts on their rent. But what was extra interesting about this was that many of those actors said that they were treated politely, even warmly, by the same people they found out later...

MARTIN: Oh, fascinating.

DEMBY: ...Were telling them that there weren't apartments available.

MARTIN: So maybe the endgame of the interaction was that you didn't get the apartment. But somehow, they were like - oh, but that person was so nice.

DEMBY: That person was so nice to me. And that's one of the really fascinating - and I guess, disheartening - things about the way discrimination works is that even when it's, like, right up in your face, sometimes you can't even see it unless it's in the aggregate.

MARTIN: NPR's Gene Demby - thanks so much, Gene.

DEMBY: Thank you, Rachel.


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