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Months before Charlottesville violence, minorities were already feeling alienated and excluded

- August 18, 2017

The violence in Charlottesville this past weekend — and President Trump’s unwillingness to unequivocally condemn the white nationalist groups behind it — has produced widespread condemnation of these groups and Trump himself.

Although the “alt-right” expresses its views in the guise of “equality” for whites, its prejudice toward minority groups is clear. Thus, the events in Charlottesville represent a clear threat to a variety of racial, ethnic and religious minorities.

But we should not let that threat obscure a more basic reality: Well before the violence in Charlottesville, minority groups were already feeling threatened, alienated and excluded. A newly empowered white nationalist movement may heighten those feelings, but they are hardly new. The implication is that addressing those feelings will require much more than the marginalization of white supremacy.

A unique survey sheds important light on the views of minorities. From Dec. 3, 2016, to Feb. 15, 2017, the Collaborative Multiracial Post-Election Survey (CMPS) conducted 10,145 online interviews in five languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese). The sample included larger samples of ethnic minority groups than in traditional surveys: 3,102 African Americans, 3,003 Latinos and 3,006 Asian Americans, as well as 1,034 whites. The sample included registered and unregistered voters in addition to non-citizens, all of whom were recruited through a mix of registered voter listings that could be matched to email addresses as well as opt-in online panels. The data for each racial group are weighted to match 2015 Census data in terms of age, gender, education, nativity, ancestry and voter registration. More detail about the study’s methodology can be found here, and the full questionnaire can be accessed here.

One important question in the survey asked only to African Americans sought to measure whether they perceived an increasing sense of threat from whites: “Since President Obama’s election, do you feel that whites have become more racially discriminatory and angry towards blacks?” The majority of African Americans (57 percent) said yes. Of that majority, almost 60 percent believed that the increase in discrimination and hatred was due to the growing “belief that blacks are advancing more than whites.” Similarly, 71 percent of African Americans believed that discrimination against them as a group was a “very important” factor in explaining disparities in education, income and homeownership between whites and African Americans. The survey did pose these questions immediately following questions about racialized police violence, which could have heightened African Americans’ sense of threat, but a Pew Research Center survey conducted before the election found similar results.

Racial and ethnic minorities were also more likely to express feelings of alienation. For example, respondents were asked “how much do you feel like you belong in the United States?” While 75 percent of whites believed that they “strongly belong” in the United States, only 60 percent of African Americans, 64 percent of Latinos, and 51 percent of Asian Americans held this view. Similarly, respondents were asked how much they agreed that “most Americans value and respect your presence in the United States.” Although 65 percent of whites strongly agreed that most Americans valued and respected them, only 52 percent African Americans, 54 percent of Latinos, and 46 percent of Asian Americans did so.

A weaker sense of belonging among minorities goes hand in hand with a greater sense of exclusion. When asked “How much do you feel like an outsider in the United States,” 70 percent of whites said that they felt “not at all as an outsider,” but significantly fewer African Americans (48 percent), Latinos (55 percent) and Asian Americans (40 percent) said this. Similarly, when asked “How often think[s] that other people try to exclude U.S. society,” most whites (62 percent) said “never,” but only 33 percent of African Americans, 42 percent of Latinos and 28 percent of Asian gave that response. More about social and political belonging can be found in work by my colleague Angela Ocampo.

It remains to be seen exactly how much the events in Charlottesville have hurt race relations and the inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities. But if these earlier sentiments expressed by minorities are any indication, even greater racial divisions are likely to emerge.

The alt-right protesters wanted to send the message that certain people are not welcome in the United States. It appears many of the “unwanted” had already received the message.

Jonathan Collins is a presidential postdoctoral fellow and visiting professor of political science and education at Brown University.