Joe Neel, NPR, October 24, 2017
Majorities in many ethnic, identity and racial groups in America believe that discrimination exists against their own group, across many areas of people’s daily lives, according to a poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The African-American results, in 802 adults, provide insight into the historically high levels of discrimination blacks have faced since arriving in America. These experiences happen across a broad range of situations: interacting with police; applying for jobs or seeking promotions; trying to rent an apartment or buy a home; or going to a doctor or health clinic.
The perceptions of discrimination are not primarily based in actions by institutions, as some might expect. “Most African-Americans believe that discrimination is due to the attitudes of individuals that they interact with,” says Robert Blendon, the poll’s director and professor of policy and political analysis at the Harvard Chan School. “A smaller share believes it’s actually government or institutional policies.”
Fear of discrimination, possibly triggered by past encounters, plays out in different ways. We found that this fear significantly influences people’s decisions whether to seek medical care, to call the police when in need, and even whether to drive or attend social events. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of African-Americans polled said they have personally experienced racial discrimination when going to the doctor or a health clinic, with 22 percent avoiding care out of fear of discrimination.
“If someone is avoiding seeking medical care out of fear of discrimination, they’re at risk of going undiagnosed for serious conditions,” says Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We know that repeated stress from discrimination and racism can actually make some of those conditions more likely in the first place and shorten lives.”
“Over 200 black people die prematurely every single day in America, in part because of racism in society,” says David Williams, a professor of public health at the Harvard Chan School who has pioneered work in the field of racial disparities in health care. “This poll helps us see where we need to take action to address the problem.”
The poll was conducted in the first quarter of 2017. A final report discussing major highlights from the series will be released in December.