A major survey of black American attitudes just released by the Pew Research Center gives reasons for both sobriety and encouragement.
The survey offers an economic snapshot showing that, overall, blacks have moved forward since 1980. In 2006, one in three black households had a median income of more than $50,000, whereas in 1980 less than one in five was in this bracket.
At the other end of the spectrum, two of every five black households had a median income of less than $25,000 in 2006 compared to half in 1980.
However, over this same period, there has been little change in the overall gap in income between blacks and whites, with median black income remaining around 60 percent that of whites.
But, in what I believe to be positive news, this extensive survey of attitudes produces a picture showing blacks feeling increasingly personally responsible for their situation and a diminishing tendency for blacks to see their community as monolithic.
When asked to explain why blacks "can’t get ahead," 53 percent responded that "blacks are mostly responsible for their own condition" compared to 30 percent who attributed the problem to "racial discrimination."
Younger blacks are less likely than their older counterparts to attribute barriers to progress to discrimination.
Forty percent of respondents between ages 50 and 64 say that blacks can’t get ahead due to discrimination and 43 percent say it’s their own fault. In contrast, only 25 percent of blacks under 50 attribute the problem to discrimination and 60 percent say it’s their own fault.
This doesn’t mean that blacks do not feel that racial discrimination is still not widely present in the country.
Sixty seven percent say they perceive it when they apply for a job, 65 percent sense it when they seek housing, 43 percent feel it in applying to college, and 50 percent when they go to a restaurant or shop.
So, despite a pervasive sense among blacks that racial awareness and discrimination remains widely present, blacks today, particularly younger blacks, minimize this as a factor in explaining their condition and their ability to progress.
There also seems to be an increasing awareness among blacks about the problems that are indeed impeding their progress.
When those surveyed were asked to identify what they perceive to be major problems in their communities, 58 percent responded a "lack of good jobs." However, 50 percent also identified the problem of unwed mothers, 49 percent said crime, 46 percent school drop-out rates, and 32 percent the quality of schools.
Given that the study reports that 29 percent of black households are headed by a married couple compared to 53 percent of white households, and that 66 percent of black births are to unmarried women, compared to 24 percent of white births, there seems to be an important realism and awareness today among blacks as to where the real problems are in their lives and communities.
Similar themes emerge when looking at the type of leadership and figures in the news that blacks view most positively.
Only 18 percent of those surveyed see black political leaders as "very effective." However, 36 percent of black ministers and clergy are viewed as "very effective."
Eighty five percent say that Bill Cosby, who has been actively speaking and writing about the importance of black personal responsibility, is a "good influence." However, only 17 percent see rapper 50 Cent as a "good influence" and 42 percent see him as a bad influence.
The survey devoted quite a bit of attention to attitudes about Barack Obama, which, among blacks, are overwhelmingly positive. Eighty nine percent view him positively, and 89 percent respond that he shares their interests somewhat or "a lot."
However, 39 percent of blacks, compared to 26 percent of whites, feel that his race diminishes his elections prospects.
What might politicians who are courting the black vote conclude from all this?
For one thing, blacks are increasingly buying into the "values" agenda. Growing numbers of blacks are buying into the personal responsibility message, appreciate the destructiveness of promiscuity and the importance of education. Hence, blacks are seeing their future well being more in terms of personal life management than in terms of political action.
However, blacks retain a pervasive sense of vulnerability. They see racism continuing to loom and have a low level of confidence that they can depend on our courts and police to protect them.
So, despite progress on the part of conservatives to woo the black vote based on the values agenda, big government Democrats continue to hold on to most black voters.
The potential positive news for conservatives is that the movement in black attitudes is in their direction. With proper care, attention, and education, more black voters can be reached by the conservative appeal.
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