Blacks Who Don’t Play the Victim Card
Of course, there are challenges when polling black people. In the typical national sample, there might be 125 blacks, too few to draw reliable conclusions. And black interviewers get different responses from black respondents than white interviewers get.
It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, issues of black vs. white dominated the national discourse. The Rodney King riots and the O.J. Simpson case inspired endless discussions and reams of editorial soul-searching. Affirmative action and racial preferences, multiculturalism, and political correctness were fraught topics. Then the twin towers fell, and suddenly we had a completely new enemy to worry about.
During the Katrina debacle, images of thousands of impoverished blacks jammed into the New Orleans Superdome brought the scandalous reality of black poverty back into view. But the moment passed. Today’s most charged racial issue, immigration, doesn’t involve blacks at all, but Latinos.
Regardless of the progress made in racial attitudes, the existence of the black underclass is an ongoing scandal. More than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education ended de jure racial segregation in this country, poor urban blacks continue to be a group apart, plagued by disproportionately high rates of crime, incarceration, drug use, and poor health. Inner-city black children go to bad schools, live in substandard housing, eat bad food, are disproportionately raised by single mothers, and are exposed to a pathological street culture in which aggressive demands for “respect,” ugly misogyny and the crudest markers of male machismo are valorized, while education, self-discipline and personal responsibility are dismissed as “acting white.”
Something amorphous but potentially transformative is happening -- and, critically, it’s happening within the black community itself. According to a recent NPR/Pew poll, 37 percent of blacks agreed with the statement that blacks today are so diverse they can no longer be considered a single race. Among the youngest respondents, aged 18 to 29, a staggering 44 percent agreed.
This is extraordinary. More than a third of the blacks who responded, and almost half of the young blacks, have rejected the cornerstone of American racial politics: black racial solidarity. If the poll is accurate, the most emotionally charged and immutable racial truth, the one-drop rule, is no longer sacrosanct for a large number of black people.
Almost as noteworthy is that middle-class black Americans have joined most other Americans in dissociating themselves from the values (and, by implication, the behavior) associated with the black underclass. The Pew poll found that there was a growing “values gap” between middle-class and poor blacks: 61 percent of the black respondents, and 70 percent of the college-educated blacks, said that over the past 10 years, the values of middle-class and poor blacks have become more different. Just 44 percent said that in 1986. Further confirmation of this values gap is the study’s finding that 64 percent of blacks regard hip-hop and rap music as having a bad influence on society. Moreover, the study found that while most blacks believe that they are subject to widespread discrimination, most of them don’t blame discrimination for the lack of black progress: 53 percent say blacks who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition.
But the Pew poll addressed both of these issues. It got a large sample of blacks (1007 people) and most blacks were interviewed by black interviewers (See pages 67-68 of the study).
(It is sometimes assumed that blacks give more honest answers to black interviewers, but that’s far from certain, and there may be a bias wherein blacks give “politically correct” answers to black interviewers.)
A detailed study of the survey shows good news beyond what is recounted above.
For example, when blacks are asked to rate black public figures as a “good influence,” a “bad influence” or “not much influence” the most favorably rated figures are Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby. While both have political opinions, Winfrey’s rating is almost certainly based on her economic and show business success, and Cosby’s conservative social message appears to resonate well in the black community. Unfortunately, race hustlers Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton rated highly, but Colin Powell rated higher than either of them.
Rapper 50 Cent ranked at the bottom of the list, with 42 percent of the sample rating him a “bad influence” and only 17 a good influence.
While blacks expressed far less confidence in “law enforcement” than whites, 55% claimed either a “great deal” or a “fair amount.”
Is all this good news? It depends on one’s point of view.
Commentator Juan Williams argued that the values gulf lies behind blacks’ questioning of the idea that there is a single black race. “It is getting harder to use political and racial solidarity to hide the division inside black America,” Williams wrote in the Washington Post. “The values issue is at the heart of the argument over the future of the race. This comes down to black Americans who believe in family, education and personal responsibility vs. those who point at ‘the man’ or the ‘system’ for the added weight on black Americans.”But there are other views.
Pew president Andrew Kohut concurred. “[The finding] fits with the rising percentage of blacks compared to previous polls who say that there is more values diversity between middle-class and poor blacks,” Kohut said in a phone interview. “It’s a combination of values and also economic differences within the black community.”
Regardless of the reasons for the finding, some black commentators have seen it as a dire development -- and blamed rich blacks who have lost touch with their racial roots. Molefi Kete Asante, professor at Temple University’s African American Studies Department, told the Philadelphia Daily News, “There are some people who don’t live or operate in the African-American community because they are in a community of rich people, whether they are white, black, Japanese or Latino. They are just in a whole different world from the rest of us.” Mister Mann Frisby, a former Daily News reporter, told the paper he found the widespread black rejection of racial solidarity “scary.” “When I see studies like this, it makes me cringe because I never want to separate people,” Frisby said.
In an interview on NPR, Melissa Harris Lacewell, a professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton, said she found middle-class blacks’ assertion of a values gap “shocking.” Lacewell blamed figures like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby, who are famous for championing an ethos of personal responsibility, for convincing middle-class blacks that the culprit is poor blacks themselves, not “structural racism.”
But of course, professors of “African-American studies” are, almost by definition, race hustlers. Their jobs depend on articulating racial grievances, and they have a vested interest in black failure.
None of this is to say that blacks are becoming Republican or thinking exactly like whites.
The real point of the values answer is not that middle-class blacks are turning against “blackness,” whatever that is: It’s that they are insisting that they have the right to create their own signifiers of blackness. And it’s that middle-class blacks -- who suffer from white discrimination that is in part a response to black underclass behavior, and who are far more likely to be the victims of black criminals than whites are -- are no longer willing to simply give every knucklehead in the ‘hood a free pass because of “structural racism.”Of course, the conservative social values of the black middle class are exactly the values that, if they come to prevail in the black community, will produce upward social mobility. And after a point, upward social mobility will eventually increase the number of Republicans among blacks.
This is something for which conservatives should devoutly wish. And something white liberals and race baiting black elites intensely fear.