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'Systemic Failure': Study Details Black Americans' Experiences of Discrimination

African-Americans report that they avoid calling the police, attending political events, and driving for fear of encountering discrimination

A study by NPR, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation shows the reality of discrimination that black Americans experience on a day-to-day basis. (Photo: Victoria Pickering/Flickr/cc)

A new study reveals black Americans' views of the discrimination they experience in their daily lives, detailing some of the lengths people of color go to in order to avoid racism perpetrated by their fellow citizens as well as government institutions.

The report, based on survey results compiled last year by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explores the day-to-day reality of the racism black Americans face when interacting with the healthcare sector, law enforcement, and even when completing ordinary tasks like driving or participating in social events.

"While many surveys have explored Americans' beliefs about discrimination," the study's authors note, "this survey asks people about their own personal experiences with discrimination."

Sixty percent of the 802 African Americans surveyed reported that they or a family member have been unfairly stopped by the police, while 45 percent say they've experienced discriminatory treatment by the court system.

Younger black Americans were more likely than those over the age of 50 to identify this type of institutionalized racism as a bigger problem for the population than individual prejudice including the use of racial slurs and poor treatment by people of other races. More than 30 percent of young African Americans were more concerned about racism within police departments, schools, and the government, while 19 percent of older respondents were more concerned about these issues.

Notably, respondents who earn $75,000 per year or more were found to experience individual prejudice more frequently than black Americans with lower incomes.

Those surveyed also reported avoiding certain activities that their white counterparts may take for granted. Twenty-two percent said they have avoided seeking medical care for fear of being discriminated against by healthcare professionals. As David Williams, a Harvard professor who was interviewed by NPR about the study, "Across virtually every medical intervention, from the most simple medical treatments to the most complicated treatments, blacks and other minorities receive poorer-quality care than whites."

Nearly a third of respondents also said they have avoided calling the police in anticipation of being treated in a discriminatory manner; 37 percent of lower income black people said they had avoided calling law enforcement for this reason.

And more than a quarter of those who responded said they avoided doing things like driving and participating in political or social events to avoid interacting with the police or other authorities.


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Some responded to the poll results on social media, expressing dismay if not surprise about the study's findings.

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