Experience of Racism in Anchorage

Experience of Racism in Anchorage

Melissa S. Green and Sharon Chamard

Green, Melissa S.; & Chamard, Sharon. (2013). "Experience of Racism in Anchorage." Alaska Justice Forum 30(2): 8-9 (Summer 2013). This article looks at experiences of racism reported by adults in the Municipality of Anchorage who responded to the 2009 Anchorage Community Survey (ACS). About one-third of all respondents answered Yes at least once when asked about whether they had experienced racism in nine different situations. Experience of racism was reported by members of all races/ethnicities, but the percentage of whites/Caucasians who reported such experiences was far lower in most situations than for other races/ethnicities.

This article looks at experiences of racism reported by adults in the Municipality of Anchorage who responded to questions in the 2009 Anchorage Community Survey (ACS). The ACS questionnaire included questions about race/ethnicity and Hispanic/Latino background, and questions about the experience of racism in nine different situations: while shopping; while at work; while at school; while renting or attempting to rent housing; while buying or attempting to buy housing; in a health care situation; from police; from a judge, lawyer, or other member of the justice system; or from members of local and/or state government. About one-third of all respondents answered Yes to one of the nine racism questions.

ACS is a biennial mail and Internet survey of adult heads of household in the Municipality of Anchorage conducted by the UAA Justice Center. In 2009, a total of 4,702 people were included in the random sample, and 2,080 completed surveys were received. The response rate was 50.8 percent.

The ACS questionnaire asked two questions to elicit information on the Hispanic/Latino background and race/ethnicity of respondents. The results are displayed in Table 1. Of the 2,018 respondents who answered whether they were of Hispanic or Latino background, 119 (5.9%) answered Yes. Of the 2,005 ACS respondents who identified their race/ethnicity, over four-fifths (N=1,655; 82.5%) were white/Caucasian; 98 (4.9%) were Alaska Native or American Indian; 90 (4.5%) were Asian; 56 (2.8%) were black/African American; and 21 (1.0%) were Native Hawaiian, Samoan, or other Pacific Islander, and 85 (4.2%) were of "Other" race or ethnicity. Comparison with 2010 population data for the Municipality of Anchorage as a whole (see Table 2) shows that whites are overrepresented and most other races/ethnicities are underrepresented in the 2009 Anchorage Community Survey.

Table 1. Anchorage Community Survey 2009: Hispanic Background and Race/Ethnicity
Table 2. Racial and Ethnic Background of Municipality of Anchorage Population, 2010 Census

One way to deal with underrepresentation of non-white groups (which is a common problem in surveys of general populations), is to "weight" the data so that findings are more generalizable to the overall population. This involves comparing the demographic composition of the population that was sampled to the demographic characteristics of those who responded to the survey. Responses from members of groups that were overrepresented (in this case, white people) are given less weight than are responses from individuals in underrepresented groups-those responses are given greater weight. In the tables presented in this article, we use weighted percentages that factored in race, ethnicity and gender. Table 1 shows the differences between weighted and unweighted percentages for ethnicity and race. Using weighted data allows researchers to be more confident that their findings can be generalized to the whole population, and are not just descriptions of the people who sent back their surveys.

Table 3 shows the weighted percentage of all respondents who answered Yes to experiencing racism in each of the nine situations about which they were asked. Answers are categorized by respondent race/ethnicity and Hispanic/Latino background. The weighted percentage of all respondents who answered yes to at least one of the nine racism questions is 34.4 percent.

Table 3. Anchorage Community Survey 2009: Experience of Racism in Anchorage, by Respondent's Race/Ethnicity and Hispanic/Latino Background

Over one in five respondents (22.5%) reported having experienced racism while at work, and 19 percent said they had experienced racism while shopping. Thirteen percent felt they had experienced racism in school. Under ten percent of respondents reported experiencing racism in a health care setting (6.9%), being subjected to racism from a member of local and/or state government (6.4%), or experiencing racism while renting or attempting to rent housing (4.4%) or while buying or attempting to buy housing (2.9%). With respect to the criminal justice system, 6 percent had experienced racism from police and 3.9 percent experienced racism from members of the justice system other than police, such as judges or lawyers.

Experience of racism was reported by members of all races/ethnicities, but the percentage of whites/Caucasians who reported such experiences was far lower in most situations than for other races/ethnicities. In particular, high percentages of blacks/African Americans and Alaska Natives/American Indians reported experiencing racism. Over two-thirds (69.1%) of black/African American respondents reported experiencing racism while at work, and almost that many (64.1%) had experienced racism while shopping. Over a quarter of black/African American respondents experienced racism while at school (27.8%) or from police (25.5%). Between one in five and one in six black/African American respondents experienced racism in every other situation asked about except for racism from (non-police) members of the justice system (8.7%). Over one quarter of Alaska Native/American Indian respondents said they had experienced racism while at work (40.9%), while shopping (43.4%), or while at school (36.8%), and they reported experiencing racism in all other situations in percentages four to nearly ten times as high as reported by white/Caucasian respondents.

Native Hawaiian/Samoan/Pacific Islander respondents reported experiencing high rates of racism while at work (51.4%), while shopping (54.5%), and while at school (34.6%). These respondents also had the highest weighted percentages of reported racism in a health care setting (27.3%) and while buying or attempting to buy housing (also 27.3%). Respondents of "other" race or ethnicity and respondents of Hispanic or Latino background reported experiencing racism in percentages about 1.5 to 2 times as high as white/Caucasian respondents for most situations. Asian respondents, while experiencing racism in lower percentages than other groups except whites/Caucasians, still showed higher percentages of experiencing racism than whites/Caucasians in most situations, especially while at work (25.0% of Asians; 17.1% of whites/Caucasians), while shopping (24.2% of Asians; 12.9% of whites/Caucasians), while at school (18.9% of Asians; 9.3% of whites/Caucasians); and while renting or attempting to rent housing (7.1% of Asians; 1.0% of whites/Caucasians).

Discussion

Data from ACS respondents on experience of racism are based on individual self-reported perceptions. Additionally, ACS data on experience of racism does not provide details on the circumstances of the types of discrimination experienced by respondents, or whether the racism is illegal under local, state, or federal law. For example, an experience of racism in the workplace can range from overhearing a racist joke or a racial/ethnic slur, to being actively subjected to racial/ethnic slurs or harassment (which in many cases may be considered illegal, and may be seen as contributing to a hostile work environment), all the way to being denied employment or promotion or being fired from a job because of one's race or ethnicity, independent of one's qualifications or job performance.

Anchorage Community Survey data show that experiencing racism still occurs in Anchorage, especially among racial and ethnic minorities. Notably, for all groups, higher levels of experiencing racism were reported for "work," "shopping" and "school," than for all other situations. This may be due to differences between situations that are closely regulated through anti-discrimination law (such as government agency interaction with citizens and provision of housing) versus those that are less regulated, such as workplace and retail environments. A more likely explanation is that there is a much greater frequency of contact with others during routine, daily activities such as going to work, to school or shopping than is the case with activities such as going to the doctor, interacting with members of government, or buying or renting housing. Again, subjective perceptions of racism may or may not represent illegal discrimination.

Melissa Green is a Publication Specialist with the Justice Center. Sharon Chamard is an associate professor with the Justice Center. An earlier version of this article was included as part of the Anchorage LGBT Discrimination Survey: Final Report by Melissa S. Green (Anchorage, AK: Identity, Inc., 2012). The complete report can be found at http://alaskacommunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/akq_final_report.pdf. Other results from the 2009 Anchorage Community Survey can be found at http://justice.uaa.alaska.edu/indicators/anchorage/acs2009/.