Racial minorities, and African Americans in particular, face a whole host of disadvantages that are unique to their situation. Blacks, for instance, are least likely to hold substantial wealth and have access to decent schools, and more likely to live in poor neighborhoods with few services. They have worst health outcomes than their white counterparts, and face discrimination in housing and labor markets.
And over the last year, there have been high profile examples of the pervasive social problems faced by blacks, from unfair enforcement of drug laws to the deadly consequences of implicit bias.
In other words, if you were to survey Americans on their hopes for the future, no one would be surprised by wide black pessimism.
But that pessimism doesn’t exist. Indeed, according to the latest Gallup poll on the nation’s current standing, African Americans—and other minorities—are among the most optimistic people in the country.
As of this month, 57 percent of nonwhites say that the country’s standing looks good, compared to 33 percent of whites. What’s more, nonwhites consistently show higher levels of optimism for the future than their white counterparts.
This isn’t as hard to explain as it looks: For as much as minority communities continue to face tough challenges, they aren’t as severe as they were in the past; for many African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, conditions have improved on a steady trajectory. This, it seems, is reason enough for optimism.
To wit, according to a study from the Pew Research Center, Hispanics—for instance—are more likely than the general public to show commitment to the idea that hard work brings success. Seventy-five percent say that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, compared to 58 percent for Americans writ large.
As for white Americans? It wouldn’t be wise to generalize about the views of every white person in the country, but if I had to speculate, I’d say it’s the economy—it’s hard to stay hopeful when you’re met with stagnant conditions and economic pain. And that’s especially true when—in your perceived past—things were better: jobs were easy to come by, and no one had to worry about losing their home or their property.
Yes, it’s certainly true that—for a subset of whites—pessimism on the country’s future is tied to cultural anxiety—the United States is more diverse than its ever been, there’s no going back, and for the many white Americans who see the country as theirs, this is unsettling.
But broadly speaking, if minorities and whites have different views of America’s future, it’s because—in some sense—they see themselves on different trajectories.