A new poll shows that black Americans have grown more upbeat about their treatment in society after the reelection of President Obama.
Earlier this summer, a record 47% said they were satisfied with how blacks were treated in the country — more than at any other time since Gallup started asking the question in 2001.
However, Gallup cautioned that the question was asked before George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin — an event that could dim that rising optimism. Civil rights leaders have called the controversial verdict a wake-up call to those who thought the election of a black president heralded a post-racial era.
The Zimmerman case “could prove to be a watershed event in how not just blacks, but all Americans, perceive society’s treatment of blacks today,” Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad wrote in a summary of the results. The research group surveyed more than 4,300 adults, including more than 1,000 black Americans, in June and early July.
Researchers and activists say the election of Obama buoyed hopes among African Americans, who saw his political rise as a sign of new possibilities for black advancement and acceptance. Some fear it also distracted attention from disadvantages blacks still face.
If the Gallup poll were done again this week, “I think sentiment would have been radically different,” said Shana Redmond, assistant professor of American studies and ethnicity at USC. She said the Zimmerman case, which centered on the killing of an unarmed black teenager, has made black Americans feel newly vulnerable.
Even before the Zimmerman verdict, more than half of black Americans remained dissatisfied with the treatment of black people, the Gallup poll showed. They were much more downbeat than whites and Latinos, a majority of whom said they were satisfied with how blacks were treated.
“It’s not as if when you’re in discussions with groups of African Americans, anybody is saying, ‘Isn’t it great how much better we’re treated now than in the past?’” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and chief executive of Community Coalition in South Los Angeles.
Gallup found that black women were less satisfied than black men, with the sharpest differences surfacing among young people. Sixty-three percent of black women ages 18 to 34 were dissatisfied with the treatment of blacks in the United States, compared with 46% of black men in the same age range — a finding that surprised some scholars.
“The conventional wisdom would be that young black males are targeted and harassed and therefore should be the least satisfied,” said Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Others pointed to the added burdens of sexism for black women. “Stereotypes they face are oftentimes accepted by members of even their own communities,” said Kimberle W. Crenshaw, a professor at the UCLA School of Law.