Profs study race, religion

White Americans think racial discrimination is increasing although black Americans think it’s decreasing, a recent nationwide telephone survey of more than 2,000 Americans found.

The findings are the first phase of a three-year study called the American Mosaic Project, which examines race and religion in the United States.

Three University professors and others designed the survey, which the University of Wisconsin Survey Center conducted last summer. It includes 120 questions about the respondents’ views on race, religion intolerance and prejudice.

Doug Hartmann, one of the three University professors spearheading the project, said it is probable that white Americans see affirmative action as reverse discrimination.

Hartmann said the group also found competition drives anti-Semitism — not religious intolerance.

For example, he said, some survey participants were threatened by a Jewish person’s success and not his or her religious beliefs.

When questioned about what religious or nonreligious group doesn’t share their vision of American society, survey participants indicated that atheists — with 54 percent — provided the greatest threat, Hartmann said. Survey participants said Muslims create the second-highest threat.

“This result shows that religion is deeply intertwined with conceptions of American society,” he said. “The absence of faith, the belief in a higher being seems to be a major barrier between people in our society.”ften

The findings also show that 77 percent of Americans believe prejudice and discrimination are important factors in explaining why blacks have less-profitable jobs, lower incomes and inferior housing than whites.

Sixty-three percent of participants said they believe prejudice and discrimination in favor of whites are important in explaining the whites’ advantage.

Eric Tranby, University graduate student and survey manager, said most whites do not believe they are privileged.

“White privilege is normalized,” he said.

Because whites are isolated and mingle with only people of their race, Tranby said, they do not understand the challenges people of other races face.

Hartmann said the study attempts to show the disparity in race and religion among Americans, as well as how diversity is the strength of U.S. society.

“We are also trying to understand the way in which social diversity is part of the unique fabric and strength of the American culture,” he said.

Penny Edgell, another University professor involved in the project, said the second phase includes six-month, four-city field interviews with members of interfaith, cultural and neighborhood organizations.

The cities to be covered include Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Boston. They were chosen because of their geographical location and racial and ethnic compositions, she said.

“We want to understand how our own religious or racial identity influence the way we think of our society, tolerate other groups and understand diversity,” she said.

She said the field interviews, which begin this summer, will probe further into the survey’s findings.

Amy Ronnkvist, a University graduate student and site leader for the field interviews in Minneapolis, said they intend to conduct approximately 40 interviews in the city.

“Our overall goal is to get a sense of how people view the role of race and what it means to be American,” she said.

Hartmann said the David Edelstein Family Foundation of Minneapolis sponsored the project, which will be completed next year.

He said three members of the Edelstein family are University alumni.

Their lives as Jews in the 1920s included discrimination and intolerance, an experience Hartmann said prompted this project.

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