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New survey highlights Oklahomans' differing perceptions on race

New survey highlights Oklahomans' differing perceptions on race

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2019-01-21 ne-mlkpeacewalk2703 (copy)

Joi McCondichie (center) sheds tears while singing “We Shall Overcome” during the MLK Walk in Peace while flanked by state Sen. Kevin Matthews (left) and Moises Echeverria (right) in January 2019.

Oklahomans’ opinions of their home state vary considerably by skin color, a recent survey for five nonprofit organizations found.

“When you ask Black and white Oklahomans about their experiences at work, they’re incredibly different,” said Kevin Jessop, whose company Evolve Research conducted the survey. “Black Oklahomans are far less happy at work than white Oklahomans.

“For Black Oklahomans, the experience is just not the same,” Jessop said.

A statement at the top of the survey results says it is “an independent and factual look at attitudes about race in Oklahoma.”

“This is not a study about racism,” it concludes.

The survey focused on the workplace but some questions extend beyond that. In general, Black Oklahomans were far more likely to say they’ve been the subject of racism themselves and to have witnessed racism directed at someone else than their white counterparts.

Other ethnicities, including Hispanics and American Indians, are generally somewhere in between.

“I’m a white male, and most of my friends are white, as well, and in my day-to-day life race just doesn’t come into it,” Jessop said. “I assume everyone’s the same and everyone is getting along and we all feel great, but when you review this data, the reality is that’s not the case.”

The scientific survey of 547 Oklahomans statewide was conducted on behalf of Advancing Oklahoma, a consortium of five nonprofits with the financial support of Paycom.

Among other things, the survey found that 81% of Black respondents said they have been the target of racism compared to 26% of whites, and that 81% of Blacks said they had witnessed racism directed at someone else, compared to 54% of whites.

Standing that last data point on its head means 46% of white Oklahomans said they have never witnessed racism.

In the workplace, African Americans were far less likely to say they felt supported or that their opinions mattered.

As a result, only 56% of Blacks, 61% of Hispanics and 62% said they were happy at work, compared to 80% of whites.

The data from the survey is being used in an online education series for the five participating nonprofits: Leadership Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Academy, the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

Janetta Cravens, vice president of programs for the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, said she is encouraged by the discussions the data has prompted.

“The thing I’ve been most struck by is how ready people are to have the conversation,” Cravens said. “I’m just really impressed by, first, the ethnic groups represented, and then the people who are participating are really eager to have this.

“I think we’re all trying to stutter our way into a new understanding of how to have this conversation that we’re not very well practiced at,” she said. “That means there’s a lot of hope and grace and forgiveness that needs to go into it, and I feel like people are entering into it with that spirit.”

Oklahoma Center for Community Justice Executive Director Moises Echeverria said sharing perspectives and dialogue “is when the magic happens.”

“It is easy for us to dismiss things we have not experienced,” said Echeverria. “What we have seen at OCCJ is that the more meaningful a relationship is between individuals who are different, the less likely it is for those people to dismiss (one another’s) opinions.

“If I have a friend who tells me they’ve experienced something ... I don’t understand, if I care for this friend I will ask questions and try to understand where they’re coming from,” Echeverria said. “If I don’t know them, if they’re complete strangers, I’m likely to shake my head and think they’re making things up or blowing things out of proportion.”

About half of white respondents said people in Oklahoma are treated unequally because of race or ethnicity. Even among those who said people are not treated differently because of race, large shares said they’d witnessed discrimination, believed law enforcement is not always evenhanded, and said they were open to discussions.

“Most people in the state, regardless of how they feel about whether race is an issue or not, say, ‘Yeah, I’m willing to learn. I want to take on more information. I’m willing to listen and understand.

“That’s the optimistic nugget I take for this,” he said. “Oklahomans are willing to have these conversations.”

House Bill 1775 prohibits teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to another and that anyone, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.


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