A slim majority (53%) of U.S. adults say it is good to have increased attention on the nation’s history of slavery and racism, according to an Aug. 12 Pew Research Center report.
Of this majority, 30% described this as “very good” and 23% as “somewhat good.” By comparison, 21% said this focus was “neither good nor bad,” 15% “somewhat bad” and 11% “very bad.”
Though the “good” responses were more than double the “bad,” the space between citizens over revisiting and reassessing this history is more evident when looking at the subgroup data.
A strong majority of Black respondents (75%) said increased attention on racism and slavery in U.S. history is good, with 54% saying “very good” and 21% “somewhat good.” Only 11% said “bad,” while 13% said neither.
By comparison, 46% of white respondents said this was good (24% very; 22% somewhat), while 32% said it was bad (18% somewhat; 14% very) and 22% said it was neither.
Among Asian respondents, 64% affirmed the heightened focus was good (30% very; 34% somewhat), while 19% said neither and 16% said bad (10% somewhat; 6% very).
Slightly fewer Hispanic respondents (59%) said good (32% very; 27% somewhat), while 21% said neither and 17% said bad (9% somewhat; 8% very).
The divide is more pronounced when looking at responses based on political affiliation. Only 25% of Republican / lean Republican respondents said this was good compared to 78% of Democrat / lean Democrat respondents.
Similarly, 46% of Republican respondents felt this increased attention was bad and 29% that it was neither, while only 9% and 13% of Democrats, respectively, felt this way.
“The latest national survey by Pew Research Center … finds sizable differences between parties – as well as differences within parties – over how to ensure equal rights for all Americans, regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds,” the report said.
“Republicans overwhelmingly think only a little (47%) or nothing (30%) needs to be done to ensure equal rights for all Americans, regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds. Just 22% say a lot more needs to be done, with only 7% saying that most major institutions need to be rebuilt because they are fundamentally biased,” Pew said.
“Democrats, by contrast, generally agree that a lot more needs to be done to achieve racial equality (74% say this). Yet Democrats are divided over whether this will require rebuilding most laws and institutions (40%) or can be achieved by working through existing systems (33%).”
This partisan divide continued in response to a question asking for an assessment of progress over the past 50 years on “ensuring equal rights for all Americans regardless of racial or ethnic backgrounds.”
Overall, the nation was equally split, with 48% saying “a lot” of progress has been made, 45% “a little” and 7% “none at all,” but this hides an underlying divide that becomes visible when categorizing responses along party lines.
A majority (71%) of Republicans said “a lot” of progress has been made, while 25% said “a little” and 4% “none at all.” By contrast, 29% of Democrats said “a lot,” while 61% said “a little” and 9% “none at all.”
The margin of error for the Pew report is plus-or-minus 1.5 percentage points for the total sample, with a margin of error range between 1.7 to 4.9 percentage points depending on the subgroup.
Good Faith Media reached out to several faith leaders for their reaction and response to the report’s findings. Here is what they said:
“James Baldwin said rightly, ‘We can agree to disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist,’ said Starlette Thomas, director of The Raceless Gospel Initiative, host of The Raceless Gospel podcast and associate editor at Good Faith Media.
“The history of race in America is a history about oppression and the denial of African and later African American people’s humanity and right to exist,” she said. “Not having full and fully informed conversations on race but rather water cooler chat and kitchen table debates are part of the problem.”
“Race should not be discussed in bits and pieces, in the heat of an argument, through a monument or only after an incident of racism,” Thomas said. “Instead, the conversation should be ongoing, generational and a part of the American educational system — because this history affects all of America’s institutions.”
“This new report from Pew Research shows that Black Americans and other people of color really want to see a real reckoning with the history of our country, while White Americans are less interested,” said Elijah R. Zehyoue, an ordained minister and historian from Washington, D.C. “There is much work to be done among white people to get them invested in this work, and the church should be at the center of this work.”
“I doubt that any serious student of U.S. history can ignore or trivialize the enormous role that racism and white supremacy has played in its founding and continuing narrative,” said Aidsand Wright-Riggins, executive director of New Baptist Covenant.
“My fifth-grade teacher often pointed to George Santayana’s words neatly printed in capital letters on the classroom chalkboard, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’” he said. “It’s both disappointing and difficult for me to believe that nearly half of our nation’s population elects to live in a perpetual state of historical amnesia.”
“Throughout my life, I have witnessed and experienced the symptoms of our country’s collective trauma,” Wright-Riggins said. “I pray for a day when the amnesia disappears, and we all have the ability to stop denying the psychic stress and cancer which plagues our nation’s soul.”
“The latest census demonstrates that whites will, within two decades (if not before), cease to comprise the majority of the U.S. population; therefore, we should not be surprised that the majority of whites were not positive about dealing with racism,” said Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latinx studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
“Their negative feelings are finding expression in the attempt to silence the experiences of communities of color by attempts to legislatively prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory,” he said. “Such a strategy assures an apartheid future where whites can continue to hold on to unearned power, privilege and profit even as they cease to be the majority.”