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Press Release · July 24, 2000

Racial Tension No More Likely In Multi Ethnic Neighborhoods, Study Finds

But Californians Still Prefer to Live in Areas Where Own Ethnicity Is Majority

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 24, 2000 – Although racially mixed neighborhoods often serve as the backdrop for violent interracial incidents like the Rodney King riots, they are not the epicenter of racial divisions in the state, according to a new study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In fact, whites and nonwhites who live in ethnically mixed areas are often more tolerant of each other than people who live in homogeneous neighborhoods.

Previous studies have argued that racial tensions are highest in locations where different ethnic groups interact the most. In Ethnic Context, Race Relations, and California Politics, political scientists Bruce Cain, Jack Citrin, and Cara Wong find that people who live in ethnically diverse neighborhoods do not feel greater racial tension or hostility than those who live in predominantly single-race neighborhoods. For example, whites who live in multiethnic neighborhoods are more likely to believe America can become a color-blind society (46%) than whites who live in predominantly white neighborhoods (42%).

The study measured attitudes by looking at how the ethnic composition of a neighborhood relates to the racial perceptions and voting behavior of residents who live there. The authors used data from a survey of 1,500 registered California voters conducted just before the Proposition 209 vote that prohibited the use of ethnic preferences by California’s public agencies. By matching survey responses — which revealed racial attitudes and voting behavior — against precinct-level census data, the study explores whether or not responses related to the racial makeup of respondents’ neighborhoods.

“We find no evidence that ethnic relations are more troubled in highly diverse areas,” says study author and Director of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, Bruce Cain. “We actually found relatively little difference between mixed and nonmixed areas — and where there were differences, they often revealed greater tolerance in mixed areas.”

In fact, the study shows that a large majority of whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians in both ethnically diverse and homogeneous areas are either neutral or positive about members of different ethnic groups moving into their neighborhoods. For example, 89 percent of respondents from all ethnic groups thought that blacks moving into their neighborhood either made no difference or improved conditions, while less than 10 percent believed it would make conditions worse. However, respondents from all ethnic groups also indicated that they preferred to live in neighborhoods where their own ethnic group was the majority.

“Generally, attitudes toward other ethnic groups seem to be neutral and not prejudiced,” says Cain. “The fact that people said they would rather live in an area where their own group is the majority probably has less to do with bigotry and more to do with the belief that it is easier to socialize with people of similar backgrounds.”

The study did reveal some differences between whites and nonwhites, although these differences cannot be attributed to the ethnic makeup of respondents’ neighborhoods. Compared to Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans, whites are more likely to believe affirmative action programs are unnecessary and unfair. Whites are also more likely to have supported Proposition 187, which denied public services to illegal immigrants.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.