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African-Americans report extensive experiences of discrimination with police, employers

Several New England Patriots players knelt during the national anthem at a September game in Foxborough. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press/File 2017

What role does discrimination play in the lives of African-Americans across the nation?

It disrupts a significant portion of their daily experience, according to results of a wide-ranging survey released Oct. 24 by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

As part of a series of polls titled “Discrimination in America,” people from varied backgrounds were asked questions about their experiences with discrimination — from interactions with law enforcement to applying for jobs, seeking health care, and being the target of racial slurs.

The survey, conducted earlier this year, polled 802 African-American adults by phone. Among the findings: 71 percent agreed that African-Americans where they live have fewer employment opportunities because of the color of their skin, and 64 percent of African-Americans polled believe black children do not have the same opportunities as white children for a quality education.

The survey questions are unusual because people are asked to go into detail about what they’ve encountered in their lives rather than speaking in general terms about discrimination, said Robert Blendon, professor of policy and political analysis at the Chan School and codirector of the survey.


Other takeaways from the poll are revealing. According to the report:

■  61 percent of African-Americans believe that police officers in their area are more likely to use unnecessary force on a black person than on a white person in the same situation.

■  36 percent of African-Americans say they or a family member have been told or felt as though they would not be welcome in a neighborhood, building, or housing development because they were black.

■  31 percent of African-Americans say they have avoided calling the police or other authority figures, even when in need, out of concern they would be discriminated against because of their race.


■  22 percent of African-Americans say they have avoided going to a doctor or seeking health care out of concern that they would be discriminated against or treated poorly because of their race.

■  57 percent of African-Americans report being personally discriminated against because of race when it comes to being paid equally or considered for promotion, 56 percent when applying for jobs, and 50 percent when interacting with police.

■  51 percent of African-Americans have experienced slurs and insensitive comments about their race.

■  23 percent of African-Americans say they have thought about moving or relocating because they have experienced discrimination or unequal treatment where they live.

■  45 percent said they have experienced racial discrimination in the process of renting a room or an apartment or buying a house.

■  36 percent of African-Americans who have applied to or attended college say they have experienced discrimination while applying or at college because of their race.

■  32 percent of African-Americans report being personally racially discriminated against when going to a doctor or health clinic.

■  19 percent of African-Americans say they have been personally discriminated against when trying to vote or participate in politics.

“Discrimination matters. It matters profoundly,” said David Williams, professor of public health in the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Chan School, during a panel discussion on the results.

“We have data for the United States that shows that discrimination is an independent predictor of premature mortality,” Williams said. “These are not just experiences that give people a bad day. They’re experiences that are pathogenic, that are literally causing premature death.”


Each “Discrimination in America” survey will focus on a different ethnic group and will be released one by one over the next few weeks with findings from Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Caucasians, and members of the LGBTQ community. Researchers asked every group the same questions.

The next survey, a report on the experience of Latinos in the United States, is expected to be released Wednesday.

This survey, conducted randomly over the phone between Jan. 26 and April 9, represented information gathered from a sample of African-American adults at a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

“There have been polls this year and in earlier years where the country is actually split over whether or not minorities across the whole range really do face a lot of discrimination,” Blendon said in a phone interview. “When you’re actually asking African-Americans about their own life, you really have half of African-Americans saying that they believe they were discriminated in dealing with an employer in their lifetime at least once.

“It’s not based on individual incidents,” he said. “The numbers are just way too large. People are confronting a pattern where groups of institutions are often treating them worse off because they’re black.”

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com.