Blacks See Values Gap between Poor and Middle Class, Less Optimistic about Progress

November 15, 2007

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African-American | Media & Entertainment

African-Americans say the values of middle class and poor blacks are diverging, and many also say blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race because of greater diversity among their community, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. 

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Blacks are also more pessimistic about black progress now than at any time since 1983: only one in five blacks say things are better for blacks now than five years ago, and less than half (44%) say life for blacks will get better – down from 57% saying so in 1986.

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Whites, however, see things differently; They are nearly twice as likely as blacks to say blacks have made gains in the past five years, and most whites (56%) say life for US blacks will improve.

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Similar race-based differences in perception exist regarding other key issues. Blacks have much less confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system; they also say anti-black discrimination is an everyday fact, whereas whites don’t think so.

In other areas, bland and white views converge. For example, they agree that values of blacks and whites have converged in the last decade; they also agree that most immigrants work harder than most blacks and most whites at low-wage jobs; and most blacks and whites say that rap and hip hop have a bad influence on society.

Among other key findings of the study (pdf):

  • Blacks and whites express little overt racial animosity: About eight in ten members of each racial group express a favorable view about members of the other group.
  • The most newsworthy African-American figure in politics – Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama – draws favorable ratings from blacks and whites. Blacks are more inclined to say his race will detract from his chances to be elected; whites are more inclined to say his relative inexperience will hurt him.
  • Three-quarters of blacks (76%) say that Obama is a good influence on the black community. More say so about Oprah Winfrey (87%) and Bill Cosby (85%) – the most highly regarded by blacks. Just 17% of blacks say that rapper 50 Cent is a good influence.
  • Over the past two decades, blacks have lost some confidence in the effectiveness of leaders within their community, including national black political figures, the clergy, and the NAACP.
  • 53% of African-Americans say blacks who don’t get ahead are mainly responsible for their situation; just three-in-ten say discrimination is mainly to blame. As recently as the mid-1990s, a majority of African-Americans cited discrimination as the main reason for lack of black progress.

About the study: Telephone interviews were conducted among a nationally representative sample of 3,086 adults from September 5 to October 6, 2007. African-Americans and Hispanics were over-sampled – a total of 1007 interviews were completed with blacks, and 388 with Hispanics.

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