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toward EQUALITY : EXPLORING A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE : Speaking Out : Times Poll Shows That Southern Californians Think Prejudice Is Still Common, but Subtle

February 13, 1989|KEVIN RODERICK | Times Staff Writer

Prejudice won't top many lists of the great problems in Southern California.

In fact, when the Los Angeles Times Poll asked people all over the area to name the concerns they worry about most, crime and drugs got top billing. The federal budget deficit, AIDS, unemployment and declining moral standards were usually mentioned more than prejudice, even by the minority groups who suffer it the most.

And yet, the poll taken in January found that many consider discrimination--racial, ethnic, religious--all too common here.

It's not as blatant as 30 years ago when entire neighborhoods were closed off to black families, Latinos and Asians were pressed into ghettos, and Jews were barred from membership in many civic and private associations. The poll found that nearly 8 in 10 people agree discrimination is taking more subtle forms these days.

More subtle, but no less real.

Times Poll Director I. A. Lewis, who oversaw the survey, said an analysis of the findings suggests that blacks endure the most discrimination today.

Next in line are Asians, a growing segment of society whose success seems to be causing resentment among Anglos and among other minorities. A quarter of the respondents said Asians are gaining too much economic power, while no other group was mentioned by more than 7%.

Also, Lewis said his analysis found anti-Semitism to be less intense than feelings about blacks or Asians and found Latinos to be enduring even less prejudice than Jews despite widespread resentment about immigration.

Lewis studied responses to more than 80 questions asked of a scientific sampling of 2,116 Southern California residents by telephone interviewers, some of them speaking Spanish. The questions probed the state of relations between the majority from an Anglo-Christian background and the biggest ethnic, racial and religious minorities.

Prejudice was found to come in many forms. For instance, 23% of Anglos said they would be upset by a sizable increase in the number of black residents in their area. When the question was asked another way--would their neighbors be upset--the percentage jumped to 49%, which Lewis said suggested more prejudice toward blacks than people were willing to openly admit.

The findings don't necessarily explain why some people have trouble renting apartments or the coldness of neighbors or the rare but startling cross-burning. But they offer clues to the nature of prejudice.

Almost half, 49%, of all surveyed said education was crucial to relieving prejudice. Another 28% said the answer lies within the family, and 18% said the best way is to improve economic conditions. Fewer than 10% said political or legal action was the most important.

However, among Anglos, 26% said the government pays too much attention to minorities. Only 7% of racial and ethnic minorities felt that way. While 59% of minorities said the government pays them too little attention, only 29% of Anglos agreed.

More than a quarter of Anglos and 29% of Jews said they would disapprove if someone from their family married a person from a different ethnic or racial background. Minorities objected in far fewer numbers.

A third of Anglos said they are bothered by forecasts that they will soon be another minority in Southern California. Nearly a third said minorities have gotten more economically than they deserve and 43% said they just do not see what minorities have to be angry about.

Half of the Anglos surveyed also said they do not think minorities endure much prejudice in their jobs. Disagreeing sharply, 71% of minorities said many people miss out on jobs or promotions because of racial or religious discrimination. For the most part, Anglos also think that minorities enjoy better housing and education opportunities and greater acceptance from the Anglo majority than minorities themselves acknowledge.

More than 4 in 10 Anglos resent seeing foreign languages used in signs for stores. But to minorities, who are perhaps more sympathetic to the problems of immigrants, this is a trivial issue.

Are the tensions surprising? Though less segregated now, many Southern California neighborhoods still are divided along racial and ethnic lines. In the random slice of the population polled, 58% of Anglos said they live in neighborhoods where all or most of the residents are also Anglo. Only 19% of minorities said they live in those Anglo neighborhoods.

No more than 32% of any group said their neighborhoods are integrated, balanced somewhat equally between Anglos and minorities.

Blacks and Jews consider Orange County the most prejudiced area of Southern California. Latinos and Asians said Los Angeles County was worst. Anglos mentioned Los Angeles half the time.

But the poll found that where one lives is less important than race in determining attitudes.

Asked which minority group Anglos look least favorably on, 44% of Anglos said blacks, 38% said Latinos and 24% said Asians. Only 10% said they did not think Anglos were prejudiced against any minority group.

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