A new poll about Americans’ racial attitudes shows most people don’t support racist ideology. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.
Last week a Bellevue couple found the letters KKK scrawled in the driveway of their home. And Friday, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community arrived at their mosque in Monroe and found that it had been vandalized with offensive graffiti.
Most people would agree that’s wrong, and that the KKK and other hate groups are bad. But that’s not enough.
A poll of racial attitudes in the United States released Friday found few people who said they supported the alt-right, white nationalists or neo-Nazism. Yet something prompted concern.
The researchers wrote “ … it will be disturbing to many that a not insubstantial proportion of those polled demonstrated neutrality and indifference or, worse, expressed support for antiquated views on race.”
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As I’ve said before, the symptoms on the surface (obvious acts of bigotry) point to a deeper disease that needs to be diagnosed and treated.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was done in conjunction with the University of Virginia Center for Politics. People were questioned between Aug. 21 and Sept. 5, after the rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville where the university is located.
Six percent of respondents strongly or somewhat supported the alt-right, 8 percent supported white nationalism and 4 percent supported neo-Nazism.
Those are small numbers, but as center Director Larry Sabato pointed out, in a country this big, that’s millions of people — people I don’t want to have to deal with when I need a repair at my house, or a loan, or a meal in a restaurant. But the odds are I encounter some of them every day.
The survey covered a wide range of topics having to do with race, from attitudes about interracial marriage to whether Confederate monuments should remain in public spaces.
Fifty-four percent of black people said the statues should be removed, while the majority of white respondents (67 percent) said the monuments should stay where they are. There was a political divide, too, with 81 percent of Republicans saying the monuments should remain in place, while among Democrats, 38 percent said they support keeping them and 46 percent would move them.
Race and politics are intertwined in America. That’s always been so, but the election of Donald Trump is a testament to how powerful that link is at this moment in our history.
He was elected by white Americans who voted for him across class and gender lines and despite his many blatantly biased statements. People who would never say some of the things he’s said — at least not in public — voted for him anyway.
Some people liked his biases and others didn’t think they mattered, which in the end bolsters those attitudes.
The pollsters described a troubling neutrality on issues of racism. “Within this poll a sizable number of respondents selected the ‘neither agree nor disagree’ option. Given the racially-charged and controversial nature of some of the statements polled, these middling answers seemed remarkable …”
Sixty-three percent of Republicans agreed at least somewhat with the statement that “white people are currently under attack in this country,” while 21 percent of Democrats agreed somewhat and 17 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of Republicans neither agreed nor disagreed.
It’s not a comforting thought that a good portion of the most powerful demographic group in the country feels under attack.
When the pollsters looked over all of the answers of people who were neutral on racially charged questions, they found those respondents “were more likely to have views that leaned more toward intolerance than away from it.”
Most people aren’t going to scrawl a KKK on someone’s driveway or vandalize a mosque or synagogue, but those who would do that seem to feel more empowered at this moment.
The Seattle Police Department reported last week that bias crimes have been increasing in the city, and this year’s total for the first six months, 178, has already surpassed the number for all of last year, 128.
We shouldn’t dismiss concerns about the people who will take their intolerance all the way to desecration or even violence. But I worry about all the people who give quiet support, if only through their silence, to those who are filled with hatred. I’m concerned about people whose polite bias shows up in where they choose to live, how they relate to people at work, and in their votes.
The couple in Bellevue, two white women, have been outspoken against bias against other people, because they understand that silence is not neutral.
We should poll ourselves: Where do we stand and why?