Public Policy Forum Blog

Forum Survey Gives Local Context to Emerging National Debate on Race

Say what you will about the tone, content or motivation behind Senator Barack Obama's speech on race relations earlier this week, but it is difficult to refute the positive aspects of having a national dialogue on race.

A little more than a year ago, the Public Policy Forum tried to launch a similar conversation here in Milwaukee. Our race relations survey -- conducted of 1,000 whites, African Americans and Latinos in Southeastern Wisconsin -- was a concerted effort to explore how people of different races in our region perceived themselves and other races, and to quantify just how much of an impact the state of race relations was having on the general health of our community.

Those who have been captivated by the emergence of the race issue in national politics should check out our 2006 report. Among the findings:
  • Younger people in our region felt much more positive about people of other races than older people.
  • 24% felt race relations were growing worse, a stark contrast to the 56% who felt that way in a 1991 Forum survey.
  • Half of the African Americans surveyed felt they had been stopped by police because of their race.
  • Most whites believed racial profiling by police or avoiding non-white neighborhoods to be common sense, while most African Americans believed such actions to constitute prejudice.

Interestingly, when asked what has to happen to improve race relations in our region, a typical response from individuals of all races was that "people need to learn how to discuss race." To the extent that the attention given to Obama and his former pastor has generated such discussion, we are making progress already.

Rob Henken