Survey: Americans not ready for changing face of America

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 28, 2005

The Selma Times-Journal

A nationwide survey on race relations show that many Americans are not ready for demographic changes that are coming.

“Texas, California, New Mexico, and Hawaii are already majority minority states,” the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Executive Director Larry Kopp said.

“New York, Maryland, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arizona, in the next year to two years, are going to become majority minority. Culturally, politically, people are not aware of these changes that are absolutely taking place. We surveyed people and 61-60 percent of households said they don’t want their community to change.

That’s not going to happen.”

Kopp said that in 20 to 30 years, the American population will be minority majority.

“We talk about people being comfortable with their own tribe … what is the tribe going to look like in 20-30 years? It’s always been European-Anglo; that’s changing. It’s not going to be that way. When we’re looking at a poll that says 40 percent of Americans say race relations are bad or very bad and our demographic is undeniably changing, we’ve got an elephant in the room. We’re starting the dialogue. Our foundation’s mission is race relations. We don’t advocate for one race – we try to be honest brokers of genuine dialogue.”

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, partnered with Russell Simmons, Def Jam’s CEO, to conduct a poll on race relations in America. From Sept 29-Oct 10, 2005, the Global Strategy Group interviewed 1,338 people, including 206 African-Americans, 200 Hispanics and 200 Jewish Americans.

“We believe it’s a landmark survey,” Kopp said. “On Nov. 17, we were invited to present the information to members of Congress. Twenty-five offices were represented. Next year, members will hold hearings on race relations. The idea of convening hearings on race relations is to educate, educate, educate.”

The survey has a margin of error of 3.5 percent. The poll indicates younger people overwhelmingly think more is needed to promote racial understanding.

“A researcher said to me, about this, that most of the time in America, children adopt the values of their parents,” Kopp said. “Very seldom has there been an instance where children have a different dynamic from their parents. We’re not sure what to attribute this to – multicultural movements, the internet community, emailing – thinking that doesn’t have anything to do with race or provincial mores – it’s a good sign that this cross-section, 18 to 34 year olds, are sensitive to this.”

Locally, Synethia Pettaway, a member of the County Board of Registrars, considered this. “I should have a larger variety of friends. The reason I don’t is that I live in Selma. We have morals and standards, ways we believe things should be done, ways we feel we should arrive at success. It was the way I was brought up … who I socialize with. In a larger city, you’re not ridiculed for your opinion like you are in a smaller city.”

Kopp suggested America would eventually be much like the community of New York City, a virtual smorgasbord of race and cultures.

The survey indicates Whites, African-Americans, Hispanics and Jewish-Americans all believe race relations and racial equality are important issues.

When asked, “Do you think that, in our personal lives, we socialize with members of other ethnic groups too much, about the right amount, or not enough?” 65 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 said not enough, a far higher percentage than any other age group.

“This poll is saying to us that in America it’s simply not going to be business as usual,” Schneier said. “The country is changing.”

All race and age lines came together on the question of the future of race relations. More than 57 percent of all surveyed believe the next generation of Americans will be more tolerant than people today.

“What we want to promote is dialogue,” Simmons said in a recent interview. “There is a strong desire amongst a lot of adults to stay segregated, but not the youth.”

When asked by Chris Matthews, MSNBC reporter, what he would do to improve race relations in America, Simmons answered by saying, “The first thing I would do, and I’ve had many conversations with members of this administration and the Republican Party, we talk about a war on poverty and ignorance.

It’s not only black people who are suffering. The fact is: we are not addressing the needs of the poor.”

A hip-hop mogul himself, Simmons referenced poverty as an issue that affects all races. “Here’s the good news … 50 Cent and Eminem are one and the same people.

One was born and lived in the trailer park, and one was born and lived in the housing projects. They have the same struggle … if you’re born in the trailer park … poverty and ignorance is a great part of it in America today. It’s a mindset.”

Kopp said the mission of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is not one of poverty.

“The foundation’s mission is race relations. We don’t advocate for one race. We try to be honest brokers of dialogue. We’ve spent $250 billion in Iraq so far – that would go a long way towards poverty programs in America,” Kopp said.

“In the last 90 days, I can give you major incidents of denial of race issues – Katrina, Nagin, Rosa Parks, Barbara Bush’s comments, the Millions More March. In Los Angeles, they’ve got a new mayor; he’s Hispanic,” Kopp said. “… If you don’t deliver in government, it doesn’t matter what race you are, you’ll be voted out.

You’ve got to be able to do the job.In Nassau County in New York, due to a massive influx of Hispanic workers, what was once a Republican bastion is now a Democratic/Swing region. These cultural changes are taking place. Should we have bilingual education in our public school system? Well, in Nassau County, 50 percent of the students are bilingual.”

Kopp noted that public service announcements are being produced to air in January to address fighting racism and anti-Semitism.

“The silence of the good people is something we need to be most vigilant about,” Kopp said. “These PSAs will encourage viewers to speak up.”

Jay-Z and Russell Simmons will be two featured speakers.

“Ethnic changing demographics are creating new tensions and obstacles in our communities,” Schneier said. “We must honestly and openly begin a dialogue between and within communities and families in order to ensure a better future for our children.”

A poll conducted in the same time frame by New California Media, a San Francisco coalition of ethnic media, concluded that eliminating poverty should be the nation’s top priority – higher than fighting terrorism, establishing democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan, or even rebuilding cities devastated by natural disasters.

Michel Gelobeter, executive director of Redefining Progress, an Oakland think tank, said, “This country needs a u-turn. We need to be a nation building a great society at home, not overseas.”