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Poll: Education, Income Segregates Blacks

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams is here to talk about them. And Juan, how would people say that African-Americans are not one race?

JUAN WILLIAMS: It's really stunning, Steve. It's 37 percent of African-Americans say that blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race. Now, young lower-income black people are more likely to say this than upper income black people. But what you get is nearly 40 percent of lower income blacks saying that they have little or no values in common between the poor and middle class black communities in the United States. And the perception of a class divide here has grown since the question was last asked in a poll in 1986.

INSKEEP: So when large numbers of black Americans say they don't think there's just one race there anymore, they're not really talking about skin color; they're talking about values and economics?

WILLIAMS: The first person I want to introduce you to is a woman by the name of Myrtle Wilson(ph). She is 86 years old, lives in Houston, Texas. I asked her if there were two African-American worlds.

MARTHA WILSON: Oh, lord. There are more than two, because we have some who are professional, some who are religious, some have given up, look like all hopes of making a good life for themselves and they've kind of got on the street side, where they don't work and don't want to work.

WILLIAMS: By the way, Myrtle went on to say that she had worked since she was 12 and it's hard for her to understand that there are now black people who are having a hard time investing any value, any importance to the idea of finding meaningful work.

INSKEEP: Juan, this is really interesting because of course Bill Cosby got a lot of publicity in recent years making statements that poor people in many cases - or kids in particular - should be more responsible and pull themselves up. He was criticized for blaming the victims in a sense. You wrote about that. Many other people wrote about that. It sounds like Cosby's side seems to be winning the argument based on these numbers.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. In fact, in the poll, there is a rating of major black Americans and Cosby comes out near the top. And down at the bottom are people like 50 Cent, the rapper; you know, only 17 percent of black Americans approve of him and what he does. And it's striking because obviously young people who are more likely to listen to rap and participate in the hip-hop culture, they're the most critical of people like 50 Cent and highly laudatory of the Bill Cosbys, Oprah Winfreys of the world.

INSKEEP: Now, when you spoke to some of the people who actually participated in this survey, how did their own life experiences and what they're doing now influenced some of the things that they thought and said?

WILLIAMS: Well, again, what you come back to is values. For example, I spoke with Walter Booker(ph). He's a financial analyst from Montclair, New Jersey. And here's what he had to say about the values gap, Steve, the values gap that's splitting black America. He's doing very well for himself and he does volunteer work with nonprofit, helping inner city kids.

WALTER BOOKER: Their view of the role of education in their lives is very different than their suburban counterparts. They aren't looking at, well, yeah, high school is the prelude to college and then college as the prelude to a great career. They're looking at, you know, what - it doesn't really matter how well I do in high school because that's the end of it for me and then I'll have whatever life I'm going to have.

WILLIAMS: And, Steve, here's another example. Here's a cop who sees the divide come to life as he deals with people in different parts of a town in New Jersey, Garrett Reed(ph).

GARRETT REED: When I'm dealing with people of a higher income, higher educational level, they tend to think more along the lines of mainstream America in terms of opportunities, crime, education. And when I'm dealing with people of a lower income level, they see things in a smaller, you know, world view, you know, in terms of getting out of here and having the opportunity to travel and meet other people. You get a different view of the world.

INSKEEP: You know, Juan Williams, as I listen to that tape, you hear those two African-Americans speaking in terms not of we or us, in terms of they or them, those people that they're trying to figure out, trying to understand and analyze.

WILLIAMS: I want you to listen for just a second to a woman, a cook, a woman who has a low level income, works in Baltimore, by the name Lenore Phillip(ph). And here is what she had to say about this divide.

LENORE PHILLIP: We as a people, we always saw ourselves fighting against white America. That was what segregation truly was when we studied it in school, but no one ever took a look and saw that it was a matter of segregation between rich blacks and middle-class blacks - middle-class blacks versus poor blacks. There's very few - and I want to make sure that that comes across; they are very few upper-class blacks that reach out to the lower class.

WILLIAMS: So what you see here, Steve, is this perception of a divide inside the black community.

INSKEEP: You know, Juan, not too long ago we spoke with the author Richard Russo, who argued that the big divide in America that gets overlooked is not race but class.

WILLIAMS: I think Richard Russo is on to something. We have a difficult time as Americans talking about class. And I think that among black people in this country now it's reached the point where people are acknowledging it, and they're slow to acknowledged it as a reality if they are well-educated, if they have liberal politics, because they don't want to have it said that they've become bourgeois and are forgetting those who are at the lower end. What a contrast it is in terms of American history. Black people were always clearly identified as black if they simply had one drop of black blood.

INSKEEP: As middle-class and upper-class African-Americans seem to grow apart in their values and beliefs from lower-class blacks, do those middle and upper-class blacks seemed to get closer to whites in their values?

WILLIAMS: You know, there's one voice I think that would illustrate this for you, Steve. This man - his name is Larry Oliver. He lives in Lancaster, California. Listen to how he talks about the kind of similarities now, especially among young people, regardless of their race.

LARRY OLIVER: I believe that this is the new generation. And I believe that a lot of that is based on kids just not knowing a lot of the prejudice that's taking place out there. It's not a big deal to them. They're going along as if this is just the way it's supposed to be. It's all right for me to ride my bike with this little white kid or the little Mexican kid and start learning a little Spanish. And that's the good thing, I think, that's now taking place.

WILLIAMS: What you see is that it's like 70 percent-plus of white Americans say that black and white values are now becoming more similar. And Hispanics agree as well. Even as there's a divide within the black community, there's this overall sense from blacks, whites, Hispanics that there is a convergence of values across racial lines taking place in America at this point.

INSKEEP: NPR's Juan Williams, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you can get more analysis of this story as well as full results of the poll by going to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.
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