African 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.

Despite blatant 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 aware.

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




African Americans 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.

's 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.

Hollow Headlines

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.

Washington Post
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

Mostly unmentioned 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 1999.

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:

Poll: Blacks Disappointed at
Democrats, But Reject GOP

Professionals in 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 5.

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 politics."

The Youth factor

Something important 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 read:

Poll: Black 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 concerned about."

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.

Republican strategists 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 disconnection.

Nevertheless, when young Blacks vote, they vote Democrat. They are solidly inside the Black Consensus, which is located on the left of the American political spectrum.

Vouchers: Hypothetical 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, itself.

Through relentless 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.

No demonstrations 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.

Blacks answered 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.

"Choice" in polling

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.

When choices 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.

Hypothetical questions 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.

Hypothetical questions 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:

"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?"

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.

Definitive on War

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 African Americans."

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.

The self-descriptions Democrat, Independent, Republican, and Liberal, Moderate, Secular Conservative, Christian Conservative simply do not match across the perceptual divide between Blacks and whites.

White Christian 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 of Democrats.

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%.)

This conservative 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 tongues

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, creates distortions:

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."

Black conservatives 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."

Likewise, Black 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 political entity.

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 Political Consensus.

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Issue Number 17
November 21, 2002





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Other commentaries in this issue:

NEWS from goes weekly

The Harold Ford Show vs Serious Democratic Business

THE CRISIS, ongoing... Homosexuals singled out?... Disgruntled readers’ revenge

War for Private Profit... Bush’s Drugs of Choice

Commentaries in Issue 16 November 14 , 2002:

Trojan Horse Watch
Bush Funds Black Voucher Front Group... Your tax dollars pay for propaganda blitz

Dr. Todd Burroughs Defends CRISIS Editor’s "Opinion"... Dr. Martin Kilson Cites Lack of "Viable Analysis"... BC: Editor Valentine undermines NAACP

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Exposed... The Trojan Horse in CBC... Wild about Harry

The Simple Sayings of Harold Ford, Jr.... Sad and silly remarks from Sharpton, Rangel... Putting together a winning minority

Environmental Justice for People of Color... Summit draws 1,200 delegates to Washington

Guest Commentary
The Sniper & the Nation of Islam...By D.H. Muhammad

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