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Negative Cross-Group Attitudes are Limited, and Rooted More in Stereotypes and Hearsay than Adverse Interactions
BERKELEY: There is a common assumption in the United States that where Black and Latino communities live alongside one another, their members feel at odds due to competition for jobs, housing, and influence. But according to results from a two-year study of the Inland Empire, that’s not how most Black and Brown residents of the region see it.
To the contrary, solid majorities of African Americans (56 percent) and Latinos (54 percent) say that the other group should have more political influence than they currently enjoy, and far more members of both groups consider their competition for resources to be with whites—not with one another. These are among the findings of a recently released report from the Othering and Belonging Institute (OBI) at UC Berkeley, titled, “Margins in Movement: Toward Belonging in the Inland Empire of Southern California.”
The report synthesizes major lessons from two years of qualitative and quantitative research on the opinions, experiences, and narratives of different demographic subgroups in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Designed in collaboration with civic and community-based organizations, the research sought out the voices and views of a diverse swath of residents in order to gain a three-dimensional understanding of the region’s people, especially communities of color.
“What we hear about ourselves matters, and too often we in the Inland Empire are told by those outside our region that we’re thought of as cheap land, conservative ideals, living in the shadow of the coastal counties, or not thought of at all,” says Sky Allen, Program Director at Inland Empowerment, a coalition of community organizations focused on increasing civic participation among underrepresented communities in the region. “But we know the Inland Empire as a rich, dynamic region of diverse communities that can’t be painted with a broad brush. We and other local leaders were excited to partner with the researchers at OBI to uncover the data to tell our more complete story, and help us realize the region’s full potential,” Allen concluded.
Among the most uplifting findings were those showing that cross-group resentments between Black and Latino residents were both less common and less deeply rooted than many would expect. Part of the study was a region-wide survey (n= 1,574) that included statistically reliable numbers of people who identify as Hispanic or Latina/o/x, and as Black or African American. The survey asked residents whether they agree or disagree that jobs going to other groups limits their own opportunities. Just over 1 in 3 African Americans said they agreed that, “The more jobs that go to Latinos, the fewer good jobs there will be for people like me,” and this share dropped to just 28 percent for Black respondents under age 50. Meanwhile, only 1 in 9 Latinos felt that jobs going to African Americans mean fewer good jobs for them.
On these and several other questions, Black and Latina women were particularly likely to express solidarity with – and reject resentment toward – one another’s ethno-racial groups. Even larger shares of Latina and Black women than men say that their own and one another’s groups have too little political influence, and that whites have too much influence. Latinas were also even more likely than their male counterparts to acknowledge the enduring role of historical and structural barriers to opportunity for African Americans; and Black women were somewhat less likely than men to say that they see themselves as competing with Latinos or immigrants for jobs.
Findings on inland residents’ experiences of community and belonging showed needs for improvement. Survey respondents were asked to say how often they feel a sense of belonging – understood as feeling “comfortable, safe, and with a say in the important things happening around them” – in a series of different settings. Overall, 1 in 4 residents of the region said that they usually do not feel this sense of belonging in their neighborhood, and 37 percent usually do not feel belonging on the street or in public places. Latina women’s experiences were worse, with 46.5 percent saying they usually do not feel belonging on the street or in public places. Meanwhile, Black residents interviewed as part of the study frequently reported feeling no sense of community in their cities and neighborhoods, in part because of the “rat race” lifestyle and mentality required to make ends meet in the region.
Where the study found talk of tensions between Black and Latino community members, most were grounded in assumptions or hearsay – not negative interpersonal experiences. These came out in focus groups and one-on-one interviews through which the research team heard more long-form expressions of the views and narratives of 72 individuals. Overall, the pattern in talk about Black-Brown intergroup relations was that residents tend to believe that tensions between these groups are found “everywhere,” but with almost no personal examples. Black and Latino study participants alike assumed that tensions exist based on having heard that members of the other group hold negative opinions of their own group.
These were “stereotypes about stereotypes, or prejudices of prejudices,” write the report’s co-authors, Joshua Clark and Olivia Araiza, of OBI. “This pattern… is a case study in how relations—in this case, tensions—can live almost entirely at the narrative level.”
Clark added that positive experiences interacting across lines of difference can break people out of accepting narratives of intergroup tension as reality. “What we see in our research is solid foundations for solidarity in terms of empathy for one another’s groups’ experiences. People may be pessimistic that Black and Latino communities can come together as one, but not because efforts to build those bridges have failed. According to what we heard, they haven’t been tried! The region needs trusted local institutions creating intentional, structured opportunities for people to interact and move beyond stereotypes and hearsay. And our community foundations should prioritize investing in that type of bridge building.”