Conclusions and Recommendations


There is a significant body of work exploring public opinion of race relations, experiences with discrimination, differences between races in how they understand this issue, and so on. Yet most research largely seeks to understand the “snapshot” of public opinion — where opinion currently stands and the variables that influence a particular view — rather than how to change opinion.

Still, this overview provides important insights about how people understand the nature of the problem. Implicitly, discrimination is often viewed as being about relationships and personal interactions, not systemic bias or policy. Disparities can easily be blamed on lack of personal ambition or hard work. The role of systems and structures has to become more apparent if we hope to spark broad-based support for policy change.

Importantly, issue conversations often trigger competition between races, as though success is zero-sum and what is “given” to one group is “taken” from another. Instead, we need to find communications strategies that join people in common purpose and shared fate, while not erasing race in the process.

Specifically, communicators should consider the following  recommendations.

Conduct new research and message testing, designed with precise, short-, mid-, and long-term goals in mind. The limited message development that has been done on these issues tends to lie at either end of a continuum. Either it is done in service of a narrow goal (e.g., pass “bill X”) or a vague, ill-defined goal (e.g., talk about race). Or,  it has not yet proven its ability to create change. We  need to define specific goals relevant to improving the achievement of black males to which we can hold our strategy accountable.

Sharpen objectives and strategies for different audiences. Clearly this research suggests different starting  points  for  the  conversation  with  different  racial  groups. Black Americans  are  far  more  likely to see the systemic flaws that lead to disparities and support government action (though the personal responsibility  perspective  is  gaining  ground),  while few white  Americans  even  recognize  the  breadth and severity of traditional  discrimination,  let  alone  institutional  racism. What  is  the  call  to  action  for core, mobilizable audiences within communities of color? What call to action makes sense for opinion influencers in white communities? These and similar questions must be asked and focused on.

Develop frame flips and unifying narratives. The old storylines have limited ability to gain traction. This analysis points to the need for a frame  flip  and  a  unifying  narrative  to  break  through  deeply entrenched views on these issues. Specifically, new framing on this issue needs to:

  • Mend the in-group/out-group cycle and establish a sense of “us.”
  • Reinforce shared fate and interdependence.
  • Avoid the competitive and zero-sum assumptions that are so prevalent in public perceptions of these issues.
  • Look for ways to characterize the unique challenges facing black men and solutions to the challenges without inadvertently implying that other groups will have less opportunity, e.g., “breaking down obstacles” instead of “addressing disparities.”
  • Emphasize effective solutions. Focus on structures, systems, and policies, not personal offenses.
  • Do not lose sight of or avoid race and racial disparities in the conversation.

Engage audiences around specific issue categories. Harmonize the broad overarching narrative about black male achievement with specific issue categories that most matter to black men – jobs and income, education, and criminal justice. Gains in image and perceptions matter  most when they lead to real gains in closing disparities in these areas.

Works Cited

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Notes:

1. Few surveys include enough interviews to analyze responses by African-American men in isolation, though we include these findings when possible. Further, very few of the surveys in this review offered subgroup analysis among other racial and ethnic groups. Our references to views of other ethnic groups are therefore limited.

2. American National Election Studies (2008); Allstate/National Journal, Heartland Monitor Poll IX (2011).

3. Researchers should have healthy skepticism about whether self-professed views of race and ethnicity tell the whole story. Several dynamics have been shown to influence survey response including social desirability, question wording and context, and perceived race of interviewer. In addition to the results reported on here, readers should look to the Topos social science literature   review for The Opportunity Agenda, October 2011, Social Science Literature Review: Media Representations and Impact on the Lives   of Black Men and  Boys.

4. Using data gathered in 1995, researchers found that white and black respondents dramatically underestimated the racial gap in “out-of-wedlock births” (actual gap in 1995 was 46.1 percent, white and black respondents averaged 16.1 percent and 23.1 percent, respectively); both groups underestimated the gap in “family income” (actual gap was $12,500, white and black respondents estimated $9,410 and $9,500, respectively); both groups underestimated the racial gap in the “average income of male college graduates” with white respondents underestimating the size of the gap more than black respondents (actual gap was $6,600, white and black respondents estimated $2,370 and $5,860, respectively); and finally, white respondents underestimated the racial gap in poverty rates while blacks who responded gave higher than the actual number. (According to Kaplowitz, the actual gap in percent in poverty was 22.3, white and black respondents estimated 17.9 and 25.3, respectively.)

5. The “Black New Middle Class” is defined in the study as follows: “the best educated, most employed and wealthiest segment  is mostly between the ages of 25 and 44 and is the most technologically forward segment” of the survey population.