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Tampa Bay Partnership survey finds deep disparities on race

Margie Manning

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Two in three Tampa Bay residents support the Black Lives Matter movement. Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Black and white residents in the Tampa Bay area have stark differences in their experiences and perceptions about race relations.

Black residents are more likely to view issues of race and racial discrimination as pervasive, systemic issues that are present in relatively all elements of society, while white residents are more likely to view those issues as being situationally dependent, according to a new survey from the Tampa Bay Partnership.

“It’s the same community but two different worlds in some ways,” said Joseph St. Germain, president of Downs & St. Germain Research, which conducted the survey.

Brian Butler

The survey results did not surprise Brian Butler, president and CEO of Vistra Communications and co-chair of the Partnership’s newly formed Racial Equity Task Force.

“This has been my adult life,” Butler said. “The numbers didn’t surprise me but it was admirable that the partnership took on this sensitive challenge to better understand what the numbers mean.”

Overall, Tampa Bay residents perceive race relations locally more positively than race relations throughout the United States. Local residents also view race relations in their own communities as remaining relatively stable, but say they are worsening nationally.

But sharp differences emerged on several specific questions.

Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, was particularly struck by the finding that twice as many Black residents as white residents believe the legacy of slavery affects the current social and economic position of Black people.

That finding “points out such a fundamental either lack of knowledge or understanding of history or just flat-out denial,” Homan said.

Other key takeaways include:

  • A large majority of Black residents have experienced racial discrimination in their community, an experience that is comparatively rare for white residents.
  • Tampa Bay residents are largely in agreement that Black people are treated less fairly than white people when dealing with the police or criminal justice system.
  • White residents believe that it has become less acceptable for people to express racist or racially insensitive views over the past few years. However, Black residents believe it has become more acceptable to express these views.
  • Two in three Tampa Bay residents overall support the Black Lives Matter movement. However, nearly one in three white residents strongly oppose the movement.
  • About half of Tampa Bay residents believe issues of racism are very important in the upcoming election. Black Tampa Bay residents are much more likely to hold this belief than white residents.

The survey also asked about local, state and national elected leaders.

Mayors on both sides of the bay are thought of as working in the right direction, said Tim Schar, Tampa market president for SunTrust Bank, now Truist. Schar co-chairs of the Partnership’s Racial Equity Task Force with Butler.

Tim Schar, Tampa Bay market president, SunTrust

“We have good leadership here. That makes me feel good that if we can identify issues, then potentially there’s an opportunity to work to improve what is wrong. At least in our community, we can act locally with our local leaders,” Schar said.

Larger companies such as Truist have done a reasonably good job in addressing racial disparities, Schar said. He cited work on supplier diversity, education and training on unintentional bias and funding commitments to historic Black schools and minority owned businesses.

Vistra is a small business that has been deliberate about its hiring, acquisition and contracting processes, Butler said. About 48 percent of the 100 or so workers at Vistra are non-white, he said.

“There’s a moral imperative to making the kind of changes that Tim and Brian are talking about,” Homans said. “Study after study also has shown there’s a business case for making these changes as well, because it brings diversity of opinions and backgrounds into the organization. It creates an environment where the status quo is challenged and new directions emerge, and it’s also much more responsive for most companies to their customer base. Having an employee base that reflects the customer base provides a much better business case for profitability and success. At a root level, understanding and believing that this is good for business is critical to drive these kind of changes going forward.”

The Tampa Bay Partnership Racial Sentiment survey was conducted in early October via online questions to 450 residents of Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. The full survey is here.

The Partnership will hold a virtual community forum at 12 p.m. Nov. 5 to take a detailed look at the findings. Register here for that forum.

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