Decades after the civil rights movement’s greatest victories, black youth often see a world rife with discrimination, a new survey says. And yet they remain optimistic about their chances for affecting social change.
Researchers at the University of Chicago, who were releasing the study Thursday, say their findings also show that these youth are complex when it comes to such issues as sex education and hip-hop music.
Cathy Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and the report’s lead author, said the aim of the survey was to provide data that goes beyond broad stereotypes.
It found, for instance, that while 58 percent of black youth say they listen to rap music every day, the majority of them also think its videos are too violent and often portray black women in an offensive way.
“I enjoy rap music — I love hip-hop. I love totally different types of music,” says Lauren Guy, a 24-year-old substitute teacher from Oak Park, Ill., who participated in the survey. “What I don’t like is how women are degraded in music and how violence is glorified.”
The survey, which researchers call the Black Youth Project, details the responses of nearly 1,600 black, Latino and white participants, ages 15 to 25, from several Midwestern cities.
Their responses don’t always paint a rosy picture about minorities’ view of the country.
Little faith in government
More than half of African-American and Latino respondents said they believe government officials care very little about them, while 44 percent of white youth said the same. Just over half of black youth also were the most likely to feel their education was, on average, poorer than that of white youth. About a third of whites agreed with that statement. And 61 percent of African-Americans who were surveyed said they feel held back by discrimination.
“It’s a red flag, prompting us to talk about what needs to happen in this country to bring about true equality for young people in general — and especially vulnerable young people,” Cohen said, referring not just to black young people, but to everyone from low-income youth to gay and lesbians.
While they see many social problems in the world, the survey indicated teens and young adults are optimistic about their chances of changing things for the better.
A large majority of youth in the survey believe, for instance, that they can make a difference by participating in politics — with 79 percent black and white youth and 77 percent of Latino youth saying they feel that way.
Support for ‘buycotts’
They’re also using their spending power through “buycotts” — buying products because they like a company’s social or political values. A quarter of black youth said they’d participated in a buycott in the last 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.
Other survey findings included the following:
- About a third of black and Hispanic youth thought drugs, violence, gangs and crime were problems in their neighborhoods, compared with 10 percent of white youth;
- 59 percent of white youth report receiving care from a private doctor, while 40 percent of African-American youth and 39 percent of Hispanic youth say the same;
- 81 percent of white youth, 79 percent of Hispanic youth and 76 percent of black youth disagree with the government funding abstinence-only education;
- 76 percent of African-American youth, 74 percent of Hispanics and 68 percent of whites think condoms should be provided at high schools.
The study is unusual in that it spotlights a group that’s often overlooked by social scientists.
“We sometimes get a little statistic here and there as a footnote to someone else’s research,” says Bakari Kitwana, the Cleveland-based author of “The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture.”
“This is a study that puts young black kids at the forefront.”
Initial interviews for the survey were completed between July and November 2005, with in-depth interviews carried out in 2006. Youth interviewed for the project were from Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Gary, Ind.
The survey, which was funded by the Ford Foundation, has a margin of error of less than plus-or-minus 2 percentage points.