Latino Immigrants Come to the U.S. with Negative Stereotypes of Black Americans, New Study Shows

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 South, says political scientist Paula McClain

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

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, said Paula D. McClain, a Duke University political science professor who is the study's lead author.

McClain said 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 said.

"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?"

In an interview, McClain added: "We're actually pretty depressed about a lot of our findings."

The findings will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Politics, which is already available online (http://journalofpolitics.org/art68_3.html#a7). The study was funded by the Ford Foundation.

The study's co-authors are Niambi M. Carter, Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto and Monique L. Lyle of Duke; Jeffrey D. Grynaviski of the University of Chicago; Shayla C. Nunnally of the University of Connecticut; Thomas J. Scotto of West Virginia University; J. Alan Kendrick of St. Augustine's College; and Gerald F. Lackey and Kendra Davenport Cotton of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The findings are based on a 2003 survey, conducted in English and Spanish, of 500 Durham, N.C., 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.

The goal was to understand how Latino immigration -- a population largely new to the South in the past decade -- affects group dynamics in the South, which has historically been defined by the relationship between blacks and whites. The survey focused on a range of social and political activities and attitudes, including stereotypes each group holds about the other two.

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 indicate that few blacks are hard-working; only 8.4 percent believe few or almost no blacks are easy to get along with; and only 9.6 percent feel that few or almost no blacks can be trusted.

The researchers also 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 feel most or almost all Latinos are hard-working, and 42.8 percent say most or almost all Latinos are easy to get along with. About one-third, or 32.6 percent, of blacks feel few or no Latinos could be trusted.

WHAT CAUSES THE LATINOS' STEREOTYPES?

The researchers concluded that Latino immigrants 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.

Whites do not feel the same connection to Latino immigrants. Nearly half of whites -- 47.5 percent -- reported they have the least in common with Latinos. Just 22.2 percent of whites see themselves as having the most in common with Latinos, while 45.9 percent say they have the most in common with blacks.

Among blacks, respondents are split -- 49.6 percent say blacks have the most in common with Latinos, while 45.5 percent say they have the most in common with whites.

The study did find that several factors do reduce stereotypes. For instance, when Latinos have a sense of "linked fate" with other Latinos -- or the sense that what happens to other Latinos affects them -- they tend to have fewer stereotypes against blacks.

"The finding that these negative attitudes are modulated by a sense of linked fate suggests possibilities for the formation of connections to black Americans in the absence of the presence of an extant American Latino community," the researchers wrote.

The researchers also noted that education and some types of social interaction with blacks can reduce negative stereotypes among Latinos. However, one type of social interaction -- living in the same neighborhood -- "pushes them farther away from blacks and closer to whites," the study said.

"These new Latino immigrants may behave in ways similar to the Chinese in Mississippi in the mid-19th century, and the Cubans in Miami in the mid-20th century -- identification with whites, distancing themselves from blacks, and feeling no responsibility to rectify the continuing inequalities of black Americans," the researchers wrote.

EXPANDING THE STUDY

McClain noted that more research needs to be done to fully understand these findings. Her research team plans to expand the study to determine whether the Durham findings mirror Latino-black relations in other Southern cities. In addition to re-surveying Durham residents, her group plans to study Memphis, Tenn.; Greensboro, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; and Dalton, Ga. She recently received a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation to survey three of the cities and will seek funding from other sources to fund the remaining two cities.

While the topic requires additional research, McClain said the initial findings indicate that community leaders in cities with burgeoning Latino immigrant populations must begin thinking through how the different groups get along.

"Black and Latino leaders need to recognize that there is a tremendous potential for conflict and that Latino immigrant attitudes toward black Americans may be a part of that," she said. "There is also a potential for a backlash against Latino immigrants from black Americans."