Poll on Black Racism Challenged

The Rev. Jesse Jackson attends a rally against the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
The Rev. Jesse Jackson attends a rally against the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

When a recent poll by Rasmussen Reports found that Americans consider blacks more likely to be racist than whites and Hispanics, the results were, well, surprising, especially in the context of the racial polarization going on in the nation right now, including New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program, which largely targets young black and Latino males.


Now, the Wall Street Journal has delved beneath the surface of the Rasmussen poll questions, to address the "definitional problem of racism" — a point noted by numerous commenters at The Root in our initial post on the poll.

When Rasmussen Reports asked some of its polling subjects to conduct an odd exercise in racial stereotyping, the results were counterintuitive, or at least counterstereotypical:

"Thirty-seven percent (37%) of American Adults think most black Americans are racist, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 15% consider most white Americans racist, while 18% say the same of most Hispanic Americans."

Before we dig deeper into the poll's findings, let's note an enormous caveat: The word "racist" has multiple meanings. Merriam-Webster lists two: "1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race," and "2: racial prejudice or discrimination."

A prime reason talk about "racism" tends to be more inflammatory than enlightening is the elision of the very large difference between these two definitions. Thus: The Tea Party opposes the policies of Barack Obama, who is black. Some Tea Party members have said things that offend the racial sensibilities of left-leaning Americans. Thus, the lefties conclude, the Tea Party is driven by prejudice—it is, according to them, "racist" (by definition 2). In the left's imagination, that puts the Tea Party in the same category as the Ku Klux Klan, even though the Klan indisputably was racist by definition 1.

To put it more concisely, much of the "dialogue" about race in America today consists of equating dubiously imputed racial prejudice with white supremacy.

The Rasmussen poll questions include a nod to the definitional problem, but it's a nod in the wrong direction. Question 5 reads: "Does the term racism refer to any discrimination by people of one race against another or does racism refer only to discrimination by white people against minorities?" (You need a subscription to find out the breakdown of answers to this question.)

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.