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SPECIAL REPORT: Race and Black America

The race issue is as controversial as ever. Despite the landmark civil-rights legislation and court decisions of the 1950s and 1960s aimed at ending legal discrimination against blacks, negative attitudes toward African-American persist.

Black Americans have made major economic and political gains in recent decades in large part as a result of these legal changes. But relative to other racial and ethnic groups, their achievements still lag, reinforcing negative attitudes toward blacks. The most virulent manifestations of this racial hostility not only pits blacks against whites but against members of other racial and ethnic groups and ethnic groups as well. The beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, tension between Korean merchants and black customers in South-Central, fights between local black and Latino high school students and the escalation of tension between Jews and blacks following the accidental death of a black boy in New York are only some recent examples.

Nonetheless, most Americans continue to believe that it is desirable and possible for blacks to become truly “equal” and integrated members of society. But how is this goal to be achieved? The Times asked four experts to answer this and related questions.

THE FACTS

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* Income: Black families’ median income in 1988 was 58% of white, almost exactly what is was in 1967 (in 1988 dollars). By contrast, Latinos earned nearly 71% of white families.

* Education: The number of blacks in college rose 35% from 1970 to 1989. However, blacks earned 5.7% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 1989, down from 6.4% in 1976. During the same period, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees earned by Latinos and Asians rose by nearly 1% and 2.6% respectively.

* Poverty: Almost 44% of all black children lived below the poverty line in 1989, compared to 36% of Latinos, 19% of Asian children and 14% of white children.

* Attitudes: Asked which group Anglos look upon least favorably, 44% of whites surveyed in 1989 said blacks, 38% said Latinos and 24% said Asians.

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* Discrimination: Three quarters of all blacks surveyed in 1989 believed that many Southern Californians miss out on jobs or promotions because of racial or religious discrimination; 72% or Latinos, 60% of Asians and half of Anglos surveyed agreed.

* Housing: Nearly two-thirds of all Americans own their homes. But more than half of all blacks occupy rental housing.

* Infant Deaths: Though the rate has declined for all Americans since 1961, the rate for blacks is still twice that of whites.


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