The Essential Americaness Of African-Americans

The CBS News polling data has some interesting results on race. Matt was surprised that a significant number (44 percent) of African-Americans believe that blacks and whites have the same shot at success in this country:

I'm surprised that as many as forty-four percent of blacks say that both races have equal opportunity. I think the evidence is unambiguously clear that they do not. African-American children have parents with lower levels of income and education. Their families, even when they have above-average incomes, tend to have less wealth than white families. And even controlling for parental income and educational attainment, black kids do worse in schools than white kids. Then beyond all that, there's clear evidence of discrimination against job applicants with "black" names that tends to suggest a broader pattern of employment discrimination. There are inequities in the criminal justice system both in terms of more punishment being meted out to black offenders, and the police and the courts doing less to protect black victims.

I'm not surprised that most white people prefer to ignore this sort of evidence and believe in the existence of equal opportunities, but it's surprising to me how many African-Americans have adopted an unrealistically optimistic view.

I obviously agree with Matt's assessment of the socioeconomic plight of black folks. But I don't share his surprise. First there is this--If you're black, a quick way to go insane is to think about how much racism has altered your life. But beyond that, I spent a lot of time in my youth as a left-black nationalist arguing with friends and family about race. One thing that became clear is that while a large number of black people recognize the ugly history of racism in this country, many have a hard time seeing themselves as victims of that racism.

This makes sense if you think about it from a human perspective.  Black people have to compete, and their kids have to compete. In order to wake up every morning, work your ass off, and pay taxes, then tell your to do the same, it helps to  buy in to the idea that "you can win."  Perhaps more important than that, African-Americans are Americans, and "you can win" is a part of our ethos. I suspect that overestimating the extent to which "individual effort" matters is an American trait. Maybe even a human one, I'm not sure.

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This is why I always thought Shelby Steele's "Divided Man" theory of Obama was mostly fodder for people who think that saying fathers should be responsible for their kids, will cause you to lose black votes. If you walked 125th a year ago and asked black people what they wanted from Obama, you would have heard more about the war and the economy, then about racial justice. My point being that Obama's attitude on race is a pretty common one around black people

Personally, I've never seen myself--as an individual--as having less of a shot because I'm black. With a kid, bills, and my own personal problems, I can't really afford to think like that. I suspect this is even more true of a lot of black women. Even the Detroit Lions think they win the Super Bowl. Why else would they step on the field if they didn't?