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Are White People Unenthusiastic About Civil Rights?

• October 03, 2013 • 2:00 PM

Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy with civil rights leaders, June 22, 1963. (PHOTO: JOHN F. KENNEDY LIBRARY)

They don’t believe we have as much work left to do as their black counterparts.

Philip Cohen, who blogs at Family Inequality, attended the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. He noted that the crowd was primarily black; you can see participants in his photoset here. Are white people unenthusiastic about civil rights? Perhaps. There is evidence, in any case, that they are less likely than black Americans to think that ongoing activism is necessary. Cohen offers the results of a series of polls.

Pew Research Data published in the Los Angeles Times reveals that black people are less likely than white people to think we’ve made a lot of progress in the last 50 years. They are also substantially more likely to believe that blacks are treated less fairly than whites in a wide range of circumstances:


A Gallup poll confirms that black Americans are less likely than whites to feel that race-related rights are “greatly improved.” It also reveals that they are more than twice as likely to endorse new civil rights laws and government intervention to assure non-discrimination.


Finally, the General Social Survey asks whether the fact that blacks are worse off than whites is due to mainly to discrimination or because of some other cause. More than half of blacks and a third of whites say, “Yes, it’s discrimination.”


These data reveal that plenty of white Americans are concerned with racial equality, believe we have a long way to go, and support working to improve the treatment of black Americans. There are also plenty of black Americans that think things aren’t so bad. Nonetheless, there is a significant and persistent racial gap between the two groups.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Lisa Wade
Lisa Wade, Ph.D., holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an M.A. in Human Sexuality from New York University. She is an associate professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @lisawade.

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