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Most White Americans Don't Support Black Protestors

A new survey measures Americans’ views on patriotism, protests, and American exceptionalism.
(Photo: Nisarg Lakhmani/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Nisarg Lakhmani/Shutterstock)

This year, protests against issues of police brutality and, as of last week, the continued presence of the Confederate flag, have flared up across the country, instigating real, if incremental, changes. Government leaders across several states are calling for the removal of Confederate flags from license plates and state flags, and confederate monuments from college campuses and capitol buildings. Protests have a long and storied history in the United States, most recently with the Occupy Wall Street movement and the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.

To be sure, most Americans—63 percent, according to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute—agree that protesting unfair treatment by the government is always a good thing for our country. (And for the 32 percent who disagreed: to use the parlance of John Oliver, congrats on your white penis.)

But that number drops when the protestors are black: Only 54 percent of Americans agree that such protests are good for the country. And the difference is most dramatic among white Americans. While 67 percent support protests against government misdeeds, only 48 percent agree protests by black Americans against government mistreatment make the country better. Non-white Americans, on the other hand, were more likely to support black protestors—a full 65 percent said protests by black Americans would make the country better.

The survey also measured views on patriotism, what it means to be "truly American," religious discrimination, and our country’s moral standing. Here are some other interesting findings:

  • Fifty-three percent of Americans, and 60 percent of American women, did not believe that the country is setting a good moral example around the globe, yet 63 percent of Americans said there has never been a time in which they were not proud to be American.
  • Almost as many—62 percent—believe that "God has granted America a special role in human history." This belief was particularly popular among white evangelical Protestants, 83 percent of whom agreed.
  • White, evangelical Protestants were also more likely to believe that discrimination against Christians is on par with discrimination against other groups in America today; 70 percent of the group agreed, while only 49 percent of the public as a whole said the same.
  • More survey respondents said being able to speak English and believing in God were more important components to being "truly American" than actually being born in America. Fifty-four percent of Americans, including 64 percent of Democrats, believe that immigrants strengthen our society, while only 33 percent said that new Americans threaten traditional American practices and values.

Protestors have long dealt with a sector of Americans who believe demonstrations are counterproductive or detrimental or anything other than important and necessary for progress. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. still ring true:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.

Many movements have still managed to succeed without them.