Survey: Black youth feel alienated

I am not really surprised by the findings.


Survey: Black youth feel alienated, yet think they can make a difference

By E.A. Torriero
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Many young black people remain alienated and pessimistic about their place in society, with a majority saying immigrants to the United States receive better treatment than they do, according to a new survey.

Yet the University of Chicago study, to be released today, shows an overwhelming majority of those young people think they can make a difference by participating in politics.

High numbers of young black people listen to rap music every day. But most think it is too violent, offensive to black women and not political enough.

The survey, which tracks the attitudes of nearly 1,600 young people of all races nationwide, ages 15-25, is one of the most comprehensive ever to focus on young African Americans.

"We've heard a lot about what politicians and others think about this demographic group but we wanted to give young people a chance to speak for themselves," said Cathy Cohen, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who led the Black Youth Project.

The survey shows young African Americans are more conservative than their white counterparts when it comes to same-sex marriage and abortion.

Among other findings: More than two-thirds of young black people think AIDS would be cured faster if more white people had the disease. More black teens report using condoms or other birth control while engaging in sex than young whites or Hispanics.

Geared toward black attitudes, the survey nonetheless used a random sample of young people of various backgrounds: 635 blacks, 567 whites, 314 Hispanics and 74 of other races.

The interviews were conducted in summer and fall 2005. Some 40 participants were interviewed at length in 2006.

In many ways, the attitudes of young black people reflect previous generations.

Most doubt the nation's leaders care about them. They have little faith racism will end in their lifetime and think it hinders their advancement. They see police as biased against blacks.

They're also using their spending power through "buycotts," buying products because they like a company's social or political values.

A quarter of young blacks said they had participated in a buycott in the past 12 months, while 23 percent of white youth and 20 percent of Hispanic youth said the same.

Cohen said several of the respondents mentioned the Motorola (RED) campaign, aimed at helping fund the fight against AIDS in Africa.

"You're hearing a lot of the same themes that troubled people for a long time," he said.

In the in-depth interviews, questioners sought to understand seemingly contradictory responses from young African Americans.

While opposed to the war, many said they would willingly serve in the armed forces. While expressing dissatisfaction with the political process, they think they can make a difference politically.

Young black people were more likely to decry abortion but most did not support making it illegal.

And while responding to many questions with pessimism, they nonetheless remain optimistic their lives can make a difference.

"They really want to contribute," said Laurence Ralph, a graduate student at the University of Chicago who helped conduct in-depth interviews. "But they feel blocked from the process on many levels."

Those interviewed were especially searing on education, health care and a lack of good jobs for blacks, researchers said.

About half the blacks characterized their schooling as poorer than whites.

A majority of them reported receiving health care from public clinics rather than private doctors.

As for sex education, high-school students across racial lines found classes on the subject inadequate. They asked for more comprehensive sex training beyond abstinence, and most wanted condoms distributed in schools.

The Ford Foundation paid for the survey.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.