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Poll on racial attitudes in southeast Michigan

Jul 28, 2016

Attitudes about race have been improving in southeast Michigan, but there are still wide gaps on some issues between white people and black people. Those are some of the findings in a new survey commissioned by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. 

The survey included people from mostly black communities, mixed communities, and mostly white communities in the Detroit metropolitan area.

When asked to rank the importance of race relations, black and white people ranked that issue below issues such as education and crime.

Bernie Porn with Epic MRA.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Bernie Porn is with the pollster Epic MRA. He says the poll was taken while news coverage was full of national stories about police shooting black people and police being shot by snipers.  With that backdrop, Porn says attitudes about race relations were still positive.

“And over the course of a period of time, I think that things have become more race friendly in southeast Michigan,” Porn explained.

The historic divide between white people and black people in the Detroit metro is changing, Porn indicated. Older white and black residents tend to be further apart on many issues while younger people are closer.

“If we were to compare how things were –which was the general objective of the survey- from ’67 when the race riots occurred to now, clearly there has been an evolution of opinion and changing demographics," Porn said.

He thinks part of the reason is more socialization between the races, especially in suburbs close to the city.

However, the views of black people and white people are far apart on a handful of important issues.

One of the poll's respondents, an African American man who only gave his name as LaMar, says being black today still means discrimination.

“When I go to get my interest rates in terms of my borrowing, my mortgages, etcetera, all of those things. Also, I can’t go shop in a mall without being profiled and followed as if I’m a thief,” he said in a telephone interview by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

He added, in Michigan, it’s chiefly the black communities which are being taken over by state appointed emergency managers. He also notes people in black cities are subjected to some of the nation’s highest auto insurance rates.

“We’re still very much redlined. So, by choosing to live in Detroit and not choosing to live in the suburbs, I have to pay what I call a ‘black tax,’ where my insurance rates are astronomically high,” LaMar said.

The survey revealed well more than half of the people of color say they are treated as a suspect in a retail store or treated as if they are not smart.

But a researcher says those are things that only society can change. You can’t pass a law or make policy requiring white people to treat black people with respect.

Joe T. Darden is a professor at Michigan State University. He says the most important findings in the survey are the black respondents’ treatment in housing, loans, education, and voting.

“Do whites believe that blacks are treated differently and do blacks believe that blacks are treated differently?" Darden asked.

And in many cases, this survey shows there are major differences. Despite research showing African Americans and Latino Americans are discriminated against by real estate agents, bankers, in employment opportunities, in the courts, and by police, many white people don’t believe it.

“Whites say things or think things that are just not consistent with the research. When they believe that blacks, for example, are treated the same when it comes to mortgage lending, if they believe that, it’s just not true. And so in a sense, that has to be corrected,” Darden said.

Lawmakers and policy makers need to be better informed about these issues and make adjustments to ensure equal treatment of people of color, Darden argues.

“Those are key because if blacks feel that they’re not treated the same as whites, grievances emerge that may be potentially dangerous down the line,” he said.

That’s exactly what happened in Detroit in 1967, Darden said. While there is greater agreement between whites and blacks, there are still some huge gaps in how whites understand the experience of being black.

Support for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative on Michigan Radio comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism's Michigan Reporting Initiative, the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.