Number 17 - November 21, 2002
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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.
In 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 Blacks.
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
The 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.
What polls reveal,
and what they do not
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 media.
For these kinds
of insights, other types of tools are needed.
"When 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."
To 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.
Dr. 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."
The 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 conversation.
But on closer inspection,
we see nothing morbid is going on. The Black Consensus is alive and
kicking. It's just complicated.
The 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 wishful reality.
Poll: Young Blacks More Independent
Survey Finds Black Voters Less Solidly Democratic
As 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
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
What 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.
What 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 three.
This 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.
We 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.
The 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.
When 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.)
What 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.
It 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 GOP.
A proper headline
to announce the results from the JCPES survey might have read:
Blacks Disappointed at
Democrats, But Reject GOP
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.
When 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
70.6 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.
We 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.)
In the real world,
90%-plus Blacks voted for congressional Democrats. Many would have preferred
voting for Swedish Social Democrats.
Black GOP: Gold-Oriented Politics
A 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 phenomenon.
Between 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.
It 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
The Youth factor
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.
Do 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.
So 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.
We 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.
This 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
Youth Increasingly Despair
of Change Through Electoral Process
Under 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
Youthful 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.
This is not a Democratic
Party problem. It is a catastrophe for African Americans as a people.
21st 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.
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.
When 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
young Blacks vote, they vote Democrat. They are solidly inside the Black
Consensus, which is located on the left of the American political spectrum.
numbers for a phony issue
There 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?"
This 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 inaugurated schemes 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.
The 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,
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 following.
Yet, 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.
were necessary to push vouchers to the front pages. Corporate media
accedes to corporate demands.
The 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 whites.
The 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.
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%.
What 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.
There 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.
We 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%.
In 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.
Black 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 failed.
The 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.
Given 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.
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.
The 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 the Right.
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 opinion research.
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?
In 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."
Now, take another
look at the JCPES question, this time with our italics added:
support a voucher system where parents would get money from the government
to send their children to the public, private or parochial school of
The 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.
Finally, 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 for Republicans."
The 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.
Nothing 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.
In 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
Almost 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.
In 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 Consensus.
Black Right begins
near white Center
The 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 (white American) 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.
Democrat, Independent, Republican, and Liberal, Moderate, Secular Conservative,
Christian Conservative simply do not match across the perceptual divide
between Blacks and whites.
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.
Only 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
That 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.
When 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.
Put 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.
In 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 Blacks.
The 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%.)
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.
They 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.
Speaking in different
The 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.
The 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 of standards.
However, 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.
Dr. 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.
Dr. 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,
In 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.
When 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.
Most 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.
At 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."
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."
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.
In 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
As 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."
Splits 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
Joint Center for
Political and Economic Studies Survey pdf