Immigrants and Race

October 1, 2006

Latinos bring negative stereotypes about black Americans to the U.S. when they immigrate and identify more with whites than blacks, a study of the changing political dynamics in the South finds.

The research also found that living in the same neighborhoods with black Americans seems to reinforce, rather than reduce, the negative stereotypes Latino immigrants have of blacks, says Paula D. McClain, professor of political science and the study's lead author.

The findings are based on a 2003 survey, conducted in English and Spanish, of 500 Durham residents, including 160 whites, 151 blacks, and 167 Latinos. Durham was chosen for the pilot study because North Carolina has the fastest-growing Latino population in the country and because Durham's black population includes residents at all socioeconomic levels.

McClain says the findings are significant because the South has the largest population of blacks in the U.S. and has been defined more than other regions along a black-white divide. How Latino immigrants relate to blacks and whites, and how those groups relate to Latinos, has implications for the social and political dynamic of the region, she says.

"Given the increasing number of Latino immigrants in the South and the possibility that, over time, their numbers might rival or even surpass black Americans in the region, if large portions of Latino immigrants maintain negative attitudes of black Americans, where will this leave blacks?" the researchers wrote. "Will blacks find that they must not only make demands on whites for continued progress but also mount a fight on another front against Latinos?"

The findings were published in The Journal of Politics. Co-authors include Duke political-science graduate students Niambi M. Carter A.M. '02, Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, and Monique L. Lyle A.M. '03.

The researchers found that 58.9 percent of Latino immigrants--most Latinos in Durham are from Mexico--feel that few or almost no blacks are hard-working. About one-third, or 32.5 percent, of Latino immigrants reported they feel few or almost no blacks are easy to get along with. More than half of the Latino immigrants, or 56.9 percent, feel that few or almost no blacks could be trusted.

Within the Latino immigrant population, researchers found, more-educated Latinos have significantly fewer negative stereotypes, and men have significantly more negative stereotypes.

"One might think that the cause of the Latinos' negative opinions about blacks is the transmission of prejudice from Southern whites, but our data do not support this notion," the researchers wrote. White residents in Durham actually have a more positive view of blacks, leading researchers to conclude that Latinos' negative views were not adopted from whites.

(In the survey, only 9.3 percent of whites surveyed indicated that few blacks are hard-working; only 8.4 percent believed few or almost no blacks are easy to get along with; and only 9.6 percent felt that few or almost no blacks can be trusted.)

The researchers noted that if whites were the primary influence on Latinos' stereotypes, Latinos would become more prejudiced the longer they are in the U.S.; the findings do not support that notion. The researchers also investigated whether Latinos might be reciprocating the prejudice they sense from blacks; again, the survey did not support this theory.

The survey showed that blacks view Latinos much more favorably than Latinos view blacks. About 72 percent of blacks felt most or almost all Latinos are hard-working, and 42.8 percent said most or almost all Latinos are easy to get along with. About one-third, or 32.6 percent, of blacks felt few or no Latinos could be trusted.

Latino immigrants, researchers concluded, may bring their feelings about the racial hierarchies in their own countries with them to the U.S. The researchers noted that previous studies on race and Latin America, especially Mexico, identify blacks as "representing the bottom rungs of society."

The study also looked at the racial group with whom Latino immigrants most identify. More than 78 percent feel they have the most in common with whites, and 52.8 percent said they have the least in common with blacks.