April 28, 1994
Vol. 13, No. 17

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    Blacks pessimistic about future, Dawson says

    Half of all African Americans back the formation of a separate black political party, and 55 percent support participation in black-only institutions, according to a study by Michael Dawson, Associate Professor in Political Science.

    Dawson's paper "Black Discontent: The Preliminary Report of the 1993-94 National Black Politics Study," which was presented at a recent meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, reports for the first time data gathered in a nationwide random survey of 1,200 blacks who were asked their views on black separatism, economic prospects, gender roles and other issues. The survey, supported by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, was conducted by Dawson and Ronald Brown, associate professor of political science at Wayne State University.

    The researchers found that, in general, African Americans are very pessimistic about the future.

    "This pessimism is due in part to African Americans' belief that the prospects for achieving racial and economic equality are dubious at best," Dawson writes. Of the African Americans surveyed:

    _ Sixty-five percent said racial equality would not be achieved in their lifetimes, if ever.

    _ Seventy percent felt that the American legal and economic systems and American society in general are not fair to them.

    _ Eighty-one percent felt that American society owes African Americans a better chance at success than they have now.

    "Those who thought blacks were suffering worse economically than whites were particularly likely to believe that America was not fair," Dawson said.

    According to the survey, the number of blacks who support the formation of a black political party has doubled over the past five years, after declining over the previous decade. "Those who are younger, poorer and believe that blacks are doing worse economically than whites are more likely to support the formation of such a party," Dawson said.

    Although support for black nationalist policies and separatism was not uniform, the respondents strongly supported community-based autonomy in the black community, Dawson said. Sixty-eight percent of the people surveyed contended that blacks should control the government in black communities, and 74 percent felt they should have economic control of their communities.

    When asked if separate schools for black boys should be set up within public school systems, 62 percent of the respondents agreed. That support apparently comes from a belief among African Americans that black men are particularly disadvantaged -- 40 percent of the people interviewed agreed that African-American men are "endangered, and their problems deserve special attention."

    The researchers found diverging views within the black community on gender-related issues. Although 65 percent of the people surveyed supported the work of black feminist groups, for instance, the researchers were surprised to find that 29 percent of the respondents felt "black feminist groups just divide the black community."

    The survey confirmed observations that political views are also somewhat diverse in the black community. Eighty-six percent of the respondents support the Democratic Party, but there is some evidence that doubts about the Democratic Party are growing. Furthermore, 23 percent of the respondents consider themselves conservative.

    Although there is some divergence of opinion within the black community, the differences between blacks and whites are much more significant, Dawson said. Particularly striking are the differences in viewpoints about government's role in solving social problems.

    Dawson wrote in a related study, based on data from the 1988 National Election Studies, that while 57 percent of blacks supported a policy of government-guaranteed jobs, only 21 percent of whites held that view.

    He also pointed out that while 70 percent of blacks supported spending on programs to help blacks, only 14 percent of whites took such a view. When asked if government should see to it that blacks get fair treatment in jobs, 90 percent of blacks supported the idea, compared with 44 percent of whites.

    The division of opinion between blacks and whites should prompt more discussion between the groups, Dawson said, but he feels such conversation is unlikely. In Dawson's opinion, the number of American institutions in which blacks and whites interact is rapidly diminishing -- the multiracial civil-rights movement has disappeared, and trade unions, which once provided forums for interracial communication, are declining in power, he said.

    Dawson hopes that the results of his latest survey will aid communication on matters of race. "Unless debates about the interactions between race, economics and government within this society are engaged in seriously, we can expect increased divisions on matters of race both within the black community and between blacks and other members of this society," he said.

    -- William Harms