Black and white Americans don't agree on a whole raft of social issues. This is not a newsflash.
But this much should give us all some pause: While black and white Americans agree that race relations are getting worse, they don't even agree on 1) what might represent an improvement in race relations, 2) whether Black Lives Matter is a legitimate political movement or 3) whether those involved advocate violence.
Those are the results of a PBS NewsHour-Marist College poll released this week. And while there's plenty of interest in this poll, we'll focus on that list of three things mentioned up above. These three things reveal very interesting truths about the vastly different lives and experiences of black and white Americans and, quite possibly, the influence of conservative and ideologically driven media.See alsoCartoon: Looting in Black AmericaMore coverageOpinion and analysis about Ferguson
1. No change is good, right? No, it's not.
This is how the poll is described by Marist: "Both white and African American residents nationally agree that race relations in the United States have deteriorated during the past year. But the consensus ends there." How might people interested in monitoring even the smallest fluctuations in public opinions draw such a stark conclusion? Well, start with the very first question in the poll. When researchers asked white and black Americans whether they believed that all Americans have the same opportunities in housing, education, employment, obtaining credit to buy important things like a home or a car, fair treatment by the police, in courts or even in portrayals in newspapers and other media, there weren't just notable or large differences. There were Grand Canyons.
In fact, it's only on that last issue - media portrayals - that black and white Americans' opinions even came in anywhere near close to one another. Apparently, large shares of all Americans think that the media does portray people of color quite unfairly.
Even with 58 percent of Americans - that's 60 percent of white Americans and 58 percent of black ones - telling pollsters that race relations in the United States have worsened in the past year, the vast majority described conditions as unchanged in their local community. But again, notable racial differences soon emerge. About twice as many white Americans who saw things as status-quo said that was a "good thing," while about twice as many black Americans saw it as a "bad thing."
2. So, what are Americans prepared to do about it? This is, after all, the land of the free, the home of the brave. Well, given that the second-narrowest gap between black and white was on treatment by police, you might also expect some evidence of real or even near-agreement about Black Lives Matter.
You would be wrong.
A full 40 percent of white Americans described Black Lives Matter as "mostly a slogan," 59 percent said it distracts from "the real issues of racial discrimination," and 41 percent said Black Lives Matter advocates violence. Only 28 percent black Americans agreed with that first idea, 26 percent with the second and 11 percent the final.
It has to be said here that over the past few weeks, conservative television and radio talk shows, blogs and other outlets have made the claim about violence repeatedly. One Fox News commentator asked on-air why Black Lives Matter is not considered a hate group.
Hate groups terrorize, maim, kill and subjugate. They do not simply shout over politicians in the process of seeking votes. And given that the Black Lives Matter phenomenon involves mostly black activists, there are many more black Americans who know someone deeply involved than do white Americans. There just are.
So, despite one Texas sheriff's claims that an allegedly mentally ill man who shot and killed a sheriff's deputy was motivated or somehow spurred to action by the Black Lives Matter phenomenon, there is no evidence to date that supports that. There is, of course, ample reporting and footage showing that during the period in which protesters concerned about police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md., took to the streets, people who might or might not have had any interest in those issues also broke things and set some businesses and police cars on fire. But as damaging and costly as those events were, that does not a hate crime make.
The list of significant racial divides in public opinion go well beyond what we have discussed here.
3. And that divide even extends to ... the Civil War? The yawning divides in the way Americans view racial conditions in the United States narrow somewhat when you ask them about a seminal national event with obvious racial connotations. That event is the Civil War.
The differences in the share of white, black and Latino Americans who said correctly - and yes, we are coming down on the side of the facts here - that the Civil War was fought mainly over slavery were, when compared to other issues in the poll, relatively small. While blacks said 54 to 32 that it was about slavery, whites were about evenly split on whether it was about slavery or states' rights.
Still, if you look just a little closer, evidence of racial divide exists here too - among partisans. While Democrats said by a 56-31 margin that the Civil War was fought over slavery, Republicans said by a 54-31 margin that it was about states' rights.
It appears that in America, even the distance of 150 years, with ample research and information, are not enough for us to agree on matters involving race.