The relationship between different groups of people -- whether of different ethnicities, ages, or socio-economic backgrounds -- is on of the key elements of a community in contemporary America. We know that improving intergroup relations is a major aim of many community-based organizations working in Los Angeles today.
Our research points to some of the communication-related factors that lead to more positive or negative perceptions of intergroup relations between African Americans and Latinos in South LA. Our findings show some interesting differences between African Americans' and Latinos' perceptions of intergroup relations. They also emphasize the role that the storytelling network plays in this process.
We asked respondents “How well do you think African Americans and Latinos get along in the neighborhood?”.
African American respondents:
When they reported positive personal interactions with Latinos, they felt that intergroup relations throughout the neighborhood were better. Conversely, when African American residents reported negative personal interactions, they saw intergroup relations in the neighborhood in a more negative light.
The more often Latino respondents interacted with African Americans, the more positive their perceptions of neighborhood intergroup relations were.
This supports something many of us have probably known for a long time – if we can get people of different backgrounds to spend time interacting, they are more likely to have positive perceptions of intergroup interaction. With that said, context is also important – interactions that take place in a positive and non-competitive space are more likely to lead to more positive perceptions.
Quality of Intergroup Interaction
We asked respondents “How would you rate the quality of your personal interaction with neighbors of the other ethnic background?”.
For both African Americans and Latinos, a stronger connection to the storytelling network was related to more negative reports of personal intergroup interaction.
Of the three parts of the storytelling network – connections to organizations, connections to interpersonal contacts, and connections to geo-ethnic media – it was stronger connections to geo-ethnic media that were related to the most negative perceptions of personal intergroup interaction.
We have mentioned how important the storytelling network is in a community, and this is an example of how the storytelling network can actually have a negative influence on the community. What explains this finding? Think about the stories of “Black-Brown Relations” that appear in local media most often – they are usually about crime, conflict, and competition. If what dominates the storytelling network are negative stories, it makes sense that a stronger connection to this network would be related to more negative perceptions.
So what can we do? If we try to change the voices heard in a local community storytelling network -- that is, if we try to highlight positive stories of intergroup interaction in addition to the often negative narrative in media and interpersonal discussions -- we can have a real world impact on the quality of intergroup relations.
Return to the findings page.