Americans remain in remarkable, consistent agreement on political
issues, a shared commonality of views that holds strongly across
lines of income, gender and age. The Black Commentator's analysis
of biannual data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies confirms the vitality of a broad Black Consensus. Most importantly,
the data show that Black political behavior has not deviated
from recent historical patterns, nor is any significant Black demographic
group likely to diverge from these patterns in the immediate future.
newspaper terms, there is no "split" among African Americans
on core political issues. In those cases in which questions posed
to the 850 Blacks surveyed by the JCPES produced divergent answers
- notably, a hypothetical query on school vouchers and expressions
of increased "independence" from political parties among
young Blacks - the survey indicated that the actual political behavior
of the responders remained generally consistent with that of other
blatant misuse and distortions of the JCPES survey by the Right
and corporate media, the survey reveals very little political space
for conservative inroads among the ranks of African Americans. However,
the JCPES survey, based on comparisons of white and Black answers
to the same questions, and about issues and personalities given
daily weight in the corporate media, has built-in limitations, of
which the center's researchers are aware.
dramatic similarities among Blacks, made even more compelling
when compared to the general views of whites, hide the textures
and sophistication of African American thought and perceptions.
Within these clear areas of broad agreement, Blacks do disagree
on many things - but not necessarily in ways that are useful to
voucher advocates or Republicans, nor in ways that the JCPES poll
was designed to detect.
polls reveal, and what they do not
Americans are and have always been, in fact, clumped together on
the left side of the conventional American political spectrum. An
objective reading of the JCPES survey confirms some of the underlying
basis for Blacks' liberal voting patterns - which is long term bad
news for the Right and self-styled Black conservatives. Still, this
is not good enough news for Black progressives, since the
task of organizing people for political action requires an understanding
of how they actually feel about issues as they relate to their
own lives and in the context of their group's particular world
view, rather than within the framework presented by American corporate
these kinds of insights, other types of tools are needed.
it comes to mainstream electoral politics, it appears that we agree
about quite a lot," says Harvard professor of Government and
Afro-American Studies Dr. Michael C. Dawson. "However, there
are several things that are 'masked' by that. For example, we [Blacks]
could all look like liberal Democrats compared to the rest of them
[whites], but among each other, some Blacks look like Mondale Democrats,
some of them look like Clinton Democrats, and some of them look
like Swedish Social Democrats - more of them look like that."
the extent that researchers can penetrate the apples-and-oranges
distortions of white-Black surveys - which inevitably produce "masking"
- they can elicit responses that more usefully reveal deeply held
opinions, and are predictive of Black political behavior,
such as voting.
Dawson is author of Black Visions: The Roots of Contemporary
African-American Political Ideologies and former director of
the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Race, Politics
and Culture. "Part of the problem," he says, "is
that, given the truncated political space we are given in the United
States, there's not a lot of space where we can voice our true preference."
JCPES poll, objectively reviewed, refutes the corporate media
myth of creeping conservatism among Blacks, provides little basis
for a groundswell of school voucher sentiment, and reveals no evidence
that Black youth are lurching into nontraditional political allegiances.
These are claims made by partisans of the Right, not by JCPES's
Dr. David Bositis, a careful and conscientious researcher.
analysis is limited to confronting the interpretations given to
the JCPES poll by corporate media and others who are attempting
to declare the Black Consensus dead or dying. We understand that
JCPES is compelled to raise questions about false issues like vouchers,
because powerful forces demand that they be raised, and because
news-producers bow to these forces. Corporate media shapes the dialogue
and the JCPES, like all of the rest of us, cannot escape the howling
on closer inspection, we see nothing morbid is going on. The Black
Consensus is alive and kicking. It's just complicated.
political tone and agenda of the nation is set by partisan advertisements
posing as news headlines. The anxiously anticipated JCPES poll of
Black opinion gave the corporate media a chance to spin their own
Young Blacks More Independent
Survey Finds Black Voters Less Solidly Democratic
mid-term elections approached, innocent readers, television viewers
and radio listeners were offered the headline-driven conclusion
that Democrats were losing their grip on the Black vote. The evidence
from the JCPES survey of 850 Blacks and a slightly smaller number
of whites, showed that African American identification with the
Democratic Party had slipped 11 points, from 74 percent in 2000
to 63 percent in 2002 - a down slope that could only help the GOP
or, at the least, seriously depress the Black Democrat vote. Or
so went the wishful, conventional wisdom
unmentioned were the results of the JCPES 1999 survey, which had
found 68 percent of African Americans identifying themselves as
Democrats. One year later, during the heat of a presidential campaign,
the figure rose six points to 74 percent, then fell 11 points over
two years of the Bush presidency to the announced 63 percent level
- a net loss of only 5 points since 1999.
looked like a very serious downward trend could as easily be interpreted
as something much less significant: the trough of a very gentle
wave moving up and down through periods of very different events.
1999 was a non-election year, 2000 a presidential year, and 2002
a congressional year.
we are much more likely seeing is a deepening disappointment
with the Democratic Party among Blacks. Often, such emotional feelings
are all that polling questions that call for self-description can
evoke. The survey asked, "Do you consider yourself a Democrat,
a Republican, or an independent?" The question actually allows
the responder to choose among a wide range of options, not just
is not a country of political card-carriers. Identification with
a political party is not voting - it is not, necessarily, even preference.
The JCPES question allows people who have always voted Democrat
to call themselves independents. It's also OK for self-described
Republicans who have been unwilling to vote for that party's particular
nominees to retain the identification. And of course, non-voters
have the easy option of calling themselves "independents,"
or anything else they feel like saying.
are emphatically not arguing that the JCPES employed a meaningless
question. However, as an indicator of voting behavior in the short
term, the question is of little utility, as proven by subsequent
election returns. The big scare that the media tried to put into
the Democrats was baseless on its face, as have been all the apocalyptic
headlines that warned of imminent Black desertion of the party.
These headlines are inspired by wishful thinking from the Right.
ebbs and flows of Black political self-description are worth watching
in the context of where the bulk of Black voters and potential voters
actually sit in the political spectrum. "Soft" data based
on feelings, such as the Do you consider yourself question,
must be evaluated against hard, known data, like voting patterns.
this context is introduced, the slow erosion of Black self-identification
with the Democratic Party makes perfect sense. We know from
decades of elections data that Blacks generally vote for the most
"left" Democratic candidate available. We know
that Black America, based on voting patterns, supports candidates
to the left of national Democratic Party leadership (their own congressional
representatives, for example.) And we know from both election
information and every established poll taken in the last 40 years
that African Americans endorse in principle government programs
associated with the left wing of the Democratic Party. (This includes
"welfare," broadly described. Black complaints against
welfare primarily involve cheating and abuse, rather than maintenance
of people in need.)
can we make of the slippage in Black identification with the Democrats
in 2002? Nothing that favors Republicans or conservatives of any
stripe. Enough Blacks were disappointed with the party this mid-term
election season to eliminate the word Democrat from their personal
self-description. But they voted for the party, anyway, in the usual
numbers, because their disappointment was from the Left, and because
the Right - the Republican Party - was no alternative at all.
is at this point that Dr. Michael Dawson's Swedish Social Democrat-type
Blacks become relevant. Black voters are not simply darker American
"liberals." As Dr. Dawson maintains, African Americans
express themselves in the same way as do white American liberals
at the polls, because that is the only option available. When that
option appears to collapse, as the Democrats did in fear of George
Bush, substantial numbers of African Americans recoil in despair
and disgust - as would any good, Swedish Social Democrat. In the
end, however, they have continued to show up to vote against the
proper headline to announce the results from the JCPES survey might
Blacks Disappointed at
But Reject GOP
in both parties know perfectly well that the growing softness of
Black identification with Democrats represents Left discontent.
Real news people understand this, as well. Yet the fiction of a
growing body of political conservatism among Blacks has become media
dogma, despite the absence of supporting evidence. Corporations
create their own version of reality, and call it news.
it came to the hard question, "Who would you vote for?"
in the looming congressional elections, the ambiguities of self-identification
partially disappeared, as the conservatives among Blacks made themselves
known. 10.9 percent of the Blacks surveyed said they planned to
vote Republican. As it turned out, one of every ten Black votes
is near the outer limits of what Republicans actually received,
nationally, November 5.
percent of Blacks declared their intention to vote Democratic, while
18.5 said they "don't know." The Don't-Knows either didn't
vote at all or, in much larger proportion, cast Democrat ballots.
are not engaged in second-guessing of the JCPES poll, but showing
that even the 18.5 percent that remained reluctant to commit themselves
to a Democratic choice for the benefit of a pollster, never represented
a potential reservoir of Republican-leaning Black voters. In all
probability, a healthy slice of them were decidedly leftish, Swedish
Social Democrat types who needed time to overcome their disgust
with the drift of the Democratic Party. This is supported by JCPES
numbers showing that the 51-64 age group, the cohort in which Republicans
are all but non-existent at 3.1%, contained the highest proportion
of Don't-Knows: 22.1%. (This is the Civil Rights - Black Power generation.)
the real world, 90%-plus Blacks voted for congressional Democrats.
Many would have preferred voting for Swedish Social Democrats.
Black GOP: Gold-Oriented Politics
few more notes on Black Republicans: the numbers involved are so
small that a tripling of Blacks identifying themselves as Republicans
may amount to a minor event in the larger Black body politic, although
it is liable to be accompanied by a great deal of noise in rather
small circles. It may also be an ephemeral and tactically opportunistic
2000 and 2002, African Americans among the 26-35 and 36-50 groups
who called themselves Republicans, went from 5 and 4 percent to
15 and 12 percent, respectively. What happened? A change in power.
Presumably, two out of three of this year's age 26-50 Black Republicans
called themselves Democrats or independents two years ago, when
an incumbent Democratic regime was fighting to stay in power. When
the Democrats lost, this small group of previously non-Republicans
switched to the new party in power, creating a population explosion
in their cohort's self-described GOP ranks, although not much change
in the age group as a whole.
is apparent from the JCPES data that what we are tracking is a tiny
hustler class of Blacks, ready to go with the flow of power in an
instant. As such, they are unreliable to whomever they ally with
- only the party that has already won can count on their support.
What a worthless crew. Yet it is from these sleazy, New Jack corners
that we hear the most bombastic, self-serving nonsense masquerading
as insights into the "new Black politics."
important is happening among Black youth; there is no doubt
about it. Alarming numbers of young African Americans are clearly
becoming estranged from conventional political life. It is not coincidental
that a horrific proportion of the young Black male population is
also totally estranged from civic life of any kind, existing
instead in conditions of incarceration or criminal justice system
supervision. These statistics dwarf the incremental movements
between the columns of the JCPES poll, and have vast ramifications
for young Blacks' connectedness to social and political institutions,
including political parties.
Black youth blame the Democrats for the worsening quality of their
lives? It would be reasonable if they did, since Democrats have
colluded with Republicans to, among other crimes, create an American
Gulag peopled largely by young Blacks. More than any other cohort,
youth are motivated by the promise of change, rather than assurances
of security. During the entire conscious lifetimes of Black youth,
Democrats have promised them nothing but more of the same.
it is no surprise that the JCPES poll found that the proportion
of young Blacks describing themselves as "independent"
stood at 34 percent in 2002 - the most subjectively unaffiliated
cohort. (By "subjectively unaffiliated," we mean that
the responder does not feel a personal attachment to a party, although
he/she may vote for it.) These youngest adults logged in at 36 percent
"independent" during the presidential election year 2000,
and 30 percent in 1999. They have been very, very disappointed for
quite some time.
have already described the actual political nature of the trend
away from Black personal identification with the Democratic Party,
even more noteworthy in the 26-35 group, which moved five points,
from 24 to 29 percent "independent," between 2000 and
2002. The figures for the 18-25 age group have singular meaning
because, unlike the next two older cohorts, the youngsters do
not move even marginally to the Republican column, which remains
flat at 9%. These disappointed young Blacks are... out there, somewhere,
unattached to important civic institutions.
is yet another sign of deep social crisis, a situation that is trivialized
by linkage to the transient fortunes of any year's Democrat candidates,
as attempted by Republicans and corporate media. A more appropriate
headline might read:
Black Youth Increasingly Despair
of Change Through Electoral Process
the "independent" column to which about one-third of young,
Black potential voters retreat lurks one important indicator of
voting behavior - a negative one. "Strong political partisans
vote, while weak partisans don't," cautions JCPES senior researcher
David Bositis. "That means that younger blacks vote much less
than older blacks, and that is something to be concerned about."
Black "independents" are probably among the most undependable
voters of all. Their continued estrangement is reaching structural
proportions. When combined with ever-escalating incarceration and
felony conviction rates resulting in permanent legal disenfranchisement,
we are faced with a future in which great chunks of Black America
will no longer be counted among even "potential" voters.
is not a Democratic Party problem. It is a catastrophe for African
Americans as a people.
Century Republicans carry on in the tradition of their Ku Klux Klan
and Dixiecrat political ancestors, suppressing the overwhelmingly
Democratic Black vote through the complementary strategies of fraud
and intimidation, on the one hand, and blandishments to join the
GOP feast, on the other.
strategists know exactly what the JCPES figures reveal: the prospect
of a long term sapping of Black electoral political vitality under
uninspiring national Democratic leadership. It is for this reason
that Republican and conservative TV pundits were most anxious to
discourage Democrats from "going back" to the days of
leftist activism. Enthusiastic Democrats are their worst nightmare.
Apathetic, estranged Black youth portend extended decades of Republican
rule, not Black Republican voters.
African American voices are heard applauding the growing numbers
of Black youth gathered under the "independent" column
of the JCPES poll, they are unknowingly celebrating a symptom of
the cohort's deeper, societal disconnection.
when young Blacks vote, they vote Democrat. They are solidly inside
the Black Consensus, which is located on the left of the American
Hypothetical numbers for a phony issue
is virtually nothing to be learned from the responses to the JCPES
question, "Would you support a voucher system where parents
would get money from the government to send their children to the
public, private or parochial school of their choice?"
is a purely hypothetical question. Only the tiniest fraction of
the public in a few scattered cities have observed the workings
of the limited, recently established and barely researched school
voucher programs that exist in the United States. These hastily
are quite dissimilar to one another. The value of vouchers varies,
as does the availability, stewardship and quality of alternative
classrooms. In short, there is no familiar model for school vouchers
on which to develop an informed opinion. There is only the language
of the question.
voucher issue has been imposed on Black America - almost
as much an imposition on the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies as on the rest of us. The voucher "movement" is
an invention of rightwing think tanks, and has been sustained by
corporate dollars. (And now, by federal funding from the Bush Administration.
See Trojan Horse Watch, November 14 issue.) Corporate media transformed
a corporate demand into a Black community issue, in the absence
of a demand from the Black community, itself.
relentless coverage of the activities of Right-funded voucher organizations,
corporate media thrust the non-issue into the faces of the public,
and kept it there. Black people have raised many issues over the
past 40 years, along with corresponding demands. Millions of person-hours
have been invested to organize demonstrations intended to bring
media attention to bear on grievances that resonate near-universally
among Blacks on issues of jobs, racial justice and, yes, educational
opportunity. Sometimes the media show up; just as often, they do
not. Never, and nowhere, over the course of decades, did vouchers
for private schools emerge as a cause with any observable Black
in the space of only a few years, corporate media have designated
vouchers a "Black" concern, and elevated this non-issue
to a newsworthiness far above demands for economic and racial justice
or - a more closely related issue of deep concern to African Americans
- equitable funding for urban schools.
demonstrations were necessary to push vouchers to the front pages.
Corporate media accedes to corporate demands.
JCPES poll is designed to follow the headlines. We at the Black
Commentator believe we understand the survey's mission: to gauge
Black opinion on issues and personalities that are given prominence
in the general media, and to compare those opinions with those of
net effect of the poll, and others that preceded it, has been to
create the perception of a Black constituency for a cause
that previously had none.
answered 57.4% affirmatively to the JCPES vouchers question, while
42.6% said "No" to the broadly worded proposal - unchanged
from the 2000 survey. The Black response was more positive than
among whites, who backed the general voucher idea 51.7 - 48.3%.
does the response mean? We can only speculate about the response
to a hypothetical question regarding programs that exist in only
a very few places. First, we must state what the question and the
answers emphatically do not provide: indicators of behavior.
is no reason to believe that the respondents to the JCPES poll would
vote in corresponding proportions in a referendum for an actual
school voucher program, put forward by real politicians, paid for
through an explicit formula, providing specific amounts of money
to send a set number of children to actually existing schools offering
a known curricula. There is a great difference between hypothetical
questions and those based on understood facts.
already know how Blacks voted in Detroit, two years ago, in a referendum
for an actual vouchers program. Exit polls showed African Americans
rejected vouchers three to one, despite the fact that Detroit accounted
for 181 of Michigan's 1,513 most poorly performing schools. Black
Detroiters were more opposed to vouchers than whites. The measure
failed statewide, 69 - 31%.
the past 10 years, California has defeated two vouchers proposals
by wide margins, with strong Black majorities on the "No"
side both times. This is the actual Black behavior that could
not have been predicted by the question in the JCPES poll.
voters are adept at determining who their enemies are. In real elections,
voters observe who is lining up behind what candidates and issues.
In the polls that truly counted, African Americans took note of
their historic opponents arrayed in support of vouchers, and understood.
Parents and community activists who had spent decades seeking help
for their public schools, only to see their demands ignored by the
media and rejected by conservatives, witnessed these same forces
prescribing vouchers as a boon to them and their children. The scams
Right learned from these defeats, and now presents vouchers in blackface,
to lull African American defenses. And, of course, it claims phantom
constituencies based on hypothetical questions such as asked in
the JCPES poll.
urban realities, in which communities and their schools are in need
of everything, it is remarkable that Black voters have so
staunchly resisted vouchers, and that hypothetical questions on
vouchers have not garnered even larger majorities. The up-down JCPES
question gave every advantage to voucher boosters. Responders could,
hypothetically speaking, either take the "government money,"
or leave things as they are.
choices are added to polling questions, voucher support shrivels.
A 2001 Opinion Research poll found that 61% of blacks and 59% of
Latinos would rather see more funding "go toward public schools
than go to a voucher program." The same year, Black responders
to a Zogby International survey placed vouchers fifth among options
they would choose to improve schools. The more choices, the less
the appeal of vouchers.
JCPES poll effectively presented vouchers as the only alternative
to the status quo. As such, it is not a useful barometer of opinion,
and certainly no indicator of behavior. It is, however, useful to
questions can produce some interesting results. Imagine the Black
response to the question, "Would you support efforts to tax
the rich at rates much higher than for working people earning average
wages?" In truth, the question is far less hypothetical than
the JCPES voucher query, since George Bush and his Republicans have
been busy doing everything possible to eliminate progressive taxation,
a concept well within most people's range of understanding and experience.
Would the JCPES feel compelled to include such a question in its
biannual poll? No, because the corporate media is not demanding
a national debate on the matter, much less a Black debate. Power
invades and subdues the mechanisms of public opinion-making and
questions often leave lots of room for interpretation. The JCPES's
David Bositis reports that Blacks under 50 are much more likely
to support school vouchers than their elders. Why did they respond
in this manner?
his own research, Harvard's Professor Michael Dawson was struck
by the intensity of what he describes as "Black nationalist"
opinions among young African American males. "Young Black men
are by far the strongest supporters of Black nationalism,"
says Dawson. "These generational differences tend to maintain
even after you control for economic status."
take another look at the JCPES question, this time with our italics
you support a voucher system where parents would get money from
the government to send their children to the public, private
or parochial school of their choice?"
question can easily be read as an appeal to feelings of entitlement,
prevalent among people who believe they are owed some forms of redress
from the state and society. The words "choice" plus "money"
can effectively tap into reservoirs of nationalism, reparations
feelings, and other Black-held political beliefs and tendencies
that are antithetical to conventional conservative politics. Support
for vouchers, even if accurately measured, does not necessarily
equal a political conservatism recognizable to white America.
it is strange, indeed, to assume that any level of Black
support for vouchers is a valid indicator of emerging Republican
leanings or conservatism. African Americans have long been found
to hold education among their highest priorities. Vouchers are firmly
associated with the Republican Party and political conservatives.
Yet Blacks overwhelmingly resist Republicans and conservatives.
If pro-voucher sentiment is so strong among Blacks, concrete signs
of pro-Republican political behavior should be expected. There is
no evidence of that. David Bositis has also concluded that his poll
data on vouchers "does not translate into any sign of support
JCPES voucher question generated misleading headlines for the Right,
but it fails to put a credible dent in the Black Consensus. Voucher
opinion is murky at best, and does not represent a conservative
or Republican groundswell.
in human experience is more dramatic than war. The JCPES poll confirms
that only one out of five African Americans (19.2%) support this
government's war preparations. The finding is consistent with Black
political opinion as measured over the decades since the Vietnam
War. Anti-war opinion is a core element of the Black Consensus,
unbroken over two generations and indicating a much deeper distrust
of the motives of those in power.
an interview with the Nation of Islam's newspaper, The Final Call,
Dr. David Bositis gave the strongest weight to these figures. "From
my perspective, the most important issue was war with Iraq, which
was repudiated by African Americans."
half of Blacks directly opposed war with Iraq (45.3) at the time
of the survey, with the remainder in the Uncertain and Don't Know
categories. Despite the unprecedented fury of Bush war propaganda,
anti-war sentiments can be expected to solidify and remain dominant
among African Americans. History tells us so.
every practical sense, this measurement places the bulk of African
Americans firmly on the left side of the American political spectrum.
Indeed, the consistency of Black anti-war opinion over time strongly
indicates a radical perspective at the heart of the Black
Right begins near white Center
survey's categorization of Blacks under the heading "Ideology"
confirms the failure of conventional American political language
to make sense of African American politics. This is not the fault
of the JCPES, which has to work with the vocabulary of the general
political discourse, as transmitted through the corporate media.
Black Americans use the same political language as whites, but the
survey shows that the labels they attach to themselves mean very
different things than the same labels when used by whites.
self-descriptions Democrat, Independent, Republican, and Liberal,
Moderate, Secular Conservative, Christian Conservative simply do
not match across the perceptual divide between Blacks and whites.
Christian Conservatives are overwhelmingly political conservatives
as well, voting roughly as Republican as white Secular Conservatives.
Conversely, only about one-sixth of Black Christian Conservatives
anticipated voting Republican at the time of the poll.
70% of Black self-described Republicans, who make up about
10% of African Americans surveyed, thought they would vote with
the party November 5. To bring the Black GOP total to 10%, which
is also an approximation of the actual Black Republican vote on
November 5, the GOP attracted the missing 3% from a tenth of the
Independents and a miniscule number of Democrats.
leaves 90% of Blacks voting for the same party that only a little
over 40% of whites will ultimately support at the polls. The Democratic
Party is a minority party in national white voting terms.
the minor shuffling is done, and as was confirmed by the election
results, the vast bulk of self-described Black Christian Conservatives,
Secular Conservatives and Moderates and, of course, Black Liberals
will wind up voting for the same candidates. Only white Christian
and Social Conservatives - who vote almost identically - come close
to achieving the similarity of voting behavior that is exhibited
by all categories of Blacks.
another way, a Black Secular Conservative is about as likely to
vote Republican as a white Secular Conservative is to vote Democrat:
about one out of five. The two groups describe themselves by the
same words, but are really mirror-image opposites. The Black Secular
Conservatives vote more Democratic than white Moderates, and only
slightly less Democratic than white Liberals. Twice as many White
Liberals will vote Republican as will Black Moderates.
fact, the great bulk of Blacks are clearly Liberal to Radical, by
white American standards, despite the fact that only 39% described
themselves as Liberal to the JCPES pollsters. This 39% - the largest
of the four Black groups - is mostly well to the political left
of the 31% of whites who call themselves Liberal. The terms are
relative to members of the same racial group. Most Blacks who consider
themselves Liberal compared to other Blacks are actually Radical
when compared to Liberal whites. This is the clear conclusion based
on the manner in which Blacks describe themselves relative to other
Joint Center survey, based on information furnished by white and
Black respondents, provides enough data to construct a rough outline
of comparative racial-political realities in the United States.
Black conservatism, as understood by Blacks who believe themselves
to be conservative, actually begins somewhere near the "moderate"
center of white American politics. (Hired guns like Clarence Thomas
and Armstrong Williams are individual professional operatives who
do not represent significant enough numbers of Blacks to constitute
a political grouping - possibly 2 - 3%.)
conservative Black ten percent, mostly moderate by white standards,
is itself very soft, leaking quickly into political behavior that
would be liberal on the white side of the spectrum. The rest of
Black America stretches leftward, its numbers growing as the political
curve moves in that direction. Its largest group is mildly radical,
by U.S. standards.
are Dr. Michael Dawson's "Swedish Social Democrats" -
and significant numbers of Blacks are to the left of European Social
Democracy. What is common in Black America is considered fringe
politics in white America, a very conservative social place.
in different tongues
Black political dialogue occurs almost entirely on the Left, the
space where the Black Consensus is formed. This space is constantly
disrupted by the general society's institutions, most destructively
by the corporate press, which tirelessly attempts to define The
Consensus out of existence.
Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies must work within
parameters shaped by the corporate media. Black people themselves
demand, collectively, that it do so. Historically, we have asked
to be treated on the same terms as everyone else, to be asked our
opinion about the burning issues of the day, just like other Americans.
The JCPES fulfills that function honorably. We can trust the Joint
Center to evaluate data honestly, and to be consistent in its application
Black people do not choose the events, movements, ideas, and personalities
that the corporate media deem as news. When we are finally asked
to speak, but only to speak about what others say is important through
their media, the "masking" of our true concerns begins.
Dawson, the grand nephew of Chicago's legendary Congressman William
Dawson (D-IL, 1942 - 70), has divided Black politics into its own
frames of reference comprised of six ideologies and subgroups: Black
Nationalism, Black Conservatism, Black Marxism, Radical Egalitarianism,
Black Feminism, and Black Liberalism. Dialogues incorporating elements
of this range of ideologies go on in barbershops and beauty parlors
every day, and make perfect sense on their own terms.
Dawson gives an example of how superimposing one group's assumptions
on another's, as automatically occurs when Blacks and whites are
asked the same questions, creates distortions:
1971, University of Michigan researchers asked Blacks and whites
what they thought about the phrase, Black Power. Whites hated
the term Black Power. Blacks were split over the term. Why? Whites
thought that Black Power meant Blacks on top. Blacks thought Black
Power meant, "equal shares" or "Black pride."
We're all speaking English, here, but even the meanings of the
terms were different.
you ask Black people about the meaning of "equality"
- what did Rev. King mean by equality? George Bush's father used
Dr. King in a University of Michigan speech, in which Bush talked
about why we need a "color blind society." King said,
What I mean by equality is equal representation at all levels.
He was calling for quotas for jobs. So, even when we think of
words such as "equality" or words such as "Black
Power," we may think we have shared meaning, but we don't.
people who do survey research in the areas of race assume, essentially,
that Blacks and whites are the same and share the same values.
I could argue that the evidence is pretty clear that there are
many important political questions in which we don't share the
same meaning; we don't even share the same language.
present, the corporate media is attempting to find or invent a definable
group of conservative, middle class Blacks on which to base a "new
Black politics," divorced from "civil rights-type"
leadership. Dr. Dawson has looked for them, as well. "They
would show up in my data," said the Harvard political scientist.
"They would show up in the polls of the Republican National
Committee. They would show up as socially conservative Blacks or
as middle class Blacks - Republicans would be happy with either
one. They can't find them."
conservatives do exist, said Dawson, within an African American
spectrum that is not recognizable to white Americans. These groups
are not necessarily understood to be conservative by Blacks, either.
"In terms of social conservatism, yes, there is a significant
socially conservative segment of the Black community. The Nation
of Islam is socially conservative on issues of gender, sexuality,
views of the state, real politics, in terms of whether we should
be involved in politics or in economic life."
Black Christian Conservatives, who often behave politically like
the self-described Black Liberals in the JCPES survey, are more
consistent than contradictory when viewed through the prism of the
Black experience. "There is a socially conservative aspect
to evangelism," said Dawson.
the Eighties and early Nineties, Dawson "expected to find an
economically-based conservative wing of the Black community,"
just as corporate media claim exists in politically significant
numbers, today. "There is some evidence, I'm not sure how good
it is yet, that the younger Black middle class is more conservative
on economic issues, in particular." Still, he has yet to observe
them behaving as a separate, independent political entity.
for serious generational splits in the Black body politic: "I'm
not uniformly dismissing it. I am saying that there's not compelling
and dramatic evidence yet."
and even chasms may emerge among African Americans, over time. However,
we will not find the evidence in the corporate media. Blacks will
find divisions in the same ways we find unity: on our own terms,
and within the Black Political Consensus.
Center for Political and Economic Studies Survey pdf
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