Then after applying what sounds like a small universe of "mathematical formulas" to the survey answers (to account for "likelihoods" and "attitudes" and "characteristics," and "models ... to estimate the impact each factor has," while "controlling for other factors"), the AP announced its findings: A majority (51 percent) of Americans possess "negative views" of blacks.
Case closed, right? Wrong.
What happens when these questions are asked of blacks about blacks? How do blacks answer these negative assertions about blacks? In 1991, researchers for the National Race and Politics Survey asked the same questions of both blacks and whites. Blacks, for example, were also asked if they considered blacks "aggressive or violent," "boastful," "complaining," "lazy" or "irresponsible."
While 52 percent of whites agreed with the statement "blacks are aggressive or violent," 59 percent of blacks also agreed. On the question of blacks being boastful, more blacks than whites agreed, at 57 percent and 45 percent, respectively. On "blacks are complaining," 51 percent of blacks agreed, while fewer whites, at 41 percent, agreed with that statement. Fewer whites (34 percent) than blacks (39 percent) agreed that "blacks are lazy."
Stanford University's political scientist Paul M. Sniderman and survey research specialist Thomas Piazza examined the 1991 survey. They write: "In every case, blacks are at least as likely as whites to hold a negative view of blacks. ... Indeed, when it comes to judgments of whether blacks as a group exhibit socially undesirable characteristics, where there is a statistically significant difference between the views of blacks and whites, it always takes the form of blacks expressing a more negative evaluation of other blacks than do whites." Are blacks, who consistently score higher than whites on self-esteem tests, racist against themselves? According to the National Race and Politics Survey, apparently so -- thus the absurdity of branding someone racist merely for holding "negative" racial views.
I was about Brandon's age when my mother and I watched the 1960 convention, when John Kennedy was nominated. In my new book, "Dear Father, Dear Son," I write about my Democratic mother and Republican father. Neither of them accused Richard Nixon of seeking to re-impose Jim Crow. They talked about issues, policy differences. During vigorous political arguments over the kitchen table, neither my mother nor father played victim. Neither thought the opposing party was "out to get them." Mom and Dad considered America an imperfect country in a constant -- mostly successful -- struggle to live up to her ideals.
Man, was I fortunate.
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