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"Understanding Commonalities,"

by Maria Blanco May/June 2008 issue of Poverty & Race

In December 2007, New American Media released the results of a poll of African-American, Asian-American and Latino adults on race relations between these groups. In a long overdue method to obtain clear and in-depth polling results, the respondents were interviewed in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese or Tagalog, as needed.

Much of the media coverage that followed release of the poll focused on the poll’s findings that tensions and stereotypes existed between the groups. For the most part, this was not news to anyone who lives and works in these communities and is familiar with ethnic relations in cities where “minorities” have become the majority. The 1990 Census revealed that racial and ethnic minorities constitute a majority in seven of the country’s ten largest cities. The demographic changes that brought Latinos and Asian Americans into traditionally African-American neighborhoods have occurred in a period of increasing economic stratification and deterioration of urban housing and infrastructure. The intergroup tensions produced by diminishing opportunities and resources in large cities are as predictable as the existence of tensions and stereotypes between whites and African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos during this period.

Unfortunately and predictably, the media said little about arguably the most novel and important poll finding: All the groups expressed optimism and a strong belief that relations between the groups will improve significantly over the next decade. Not only did they expect relations to improve, they strongly (80-92%) indicated that they needed to put aside their differences and work together on problems they believe they share with each other. These findings are important not only because they anticipate a much-desired reduction in tensions. They presage an understanding that to move beyond conflict, communities must identify the shared policies and politics needed to address the deterioration of neighborhoods and schools in cities and suburbs that are increasingly segregated and left behind. This understanding of commonalities can also be the basis for an analysis of work competition that identifies the origin of that competition in employer practices and government inattention that have supported a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.

The failure to report this insight underscores another hidden nugget in the survey: Large numbers of respondents across groups indicated that mainstream media were irresponsible in their coverage of racial tensions. Hopefully, the New American Media survey points to a more responsible way to report on the issues of communities of color.

Maria Blanco , a PRRAC Board member, is Exec. Director of the Earl Warren Inst. on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity at the UC-Berkeley School of Law.

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