Survey reveals unrest among black youth

By Zachary Binney

A new survey by U of C researchers sheds light on the views of black youth, a group that feels discriminated against by society, politically neglected, and at odds with some of the messages in rap music.

The survey, titled the “Black Youth Project,” tallied the opinions of 1,590 black, white, and Hispanic people between the ages of 15 and 25 on topics ranging from politics to sex to controversial social issues like gay marriage. In-depth interviews were also conducted with 40 of the young blacks who took part in the survey, which was released earlier this month. Graduate and undergraduate students participated on the research team.

“Generally in society today there are lots of people who are willing to talk about young black people but far too few were willing to talk to young black people,” said Cathy Cohen, a professor of political science at the University and the study leader.

“Instead of anecdotal descriptions of young black people we have empirical data that suggests that they are thoughtful, reflective, and also critical thinkers, who have strong opinions about controversial policies that impact this country,” she said.

Politically, the results of the survey told a mixed story for black youth. Seventy-nine percent of blacks said they felt that participating in politics could make a difference, and about one-fourth of them were involved in a “buycott” (purchasing a company’s products because of its social values) at some time in the last year.

On the other hand, a majority of black youth agreed with the statement, “Leaders in government care little about people like me.” Additionally, 48 percent think the U.S. government treats immigrants better than it does black people; only 29 percent of white youth and 18 percent of Hispanics felt that way.

Cohen said she was “interested” to see the high level of discrimination that young blacks feel they face today. “The fact that they think they receive a poorer education than whites…[and] the fact that they believe that the government would do more to find a cure for AIDS if more whites suffered from the disease, really I think is a clear indication of the level of discrimination they perceive as still existing in their lives,” she said.

It also turns out that black youth are more conservative on hot-button social issues than their white and Hispanic counterparts. For example, 55 percent of black youth feel that homosexuality is always wrong, and 58 percent of blacks oppose legalizing gay marriage. On both these issues, 36 percent of Hispanics and 35 percent of whites felt similarly.

According to the study, young blacks are also the most careful practitioners of safe sex. About 77 percent report using protection every time or almost every time they have intercourse, as opposed to 66 percent of young whites and 64 percent of young Hispanics.

And what about rap music? Black youth are top consumers of the genre—58 percent listen to rap daily, as opposed to 45 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of whites. Yet 72 percent of black youth think rap videos have too many references to sex. In addition, 62 percent think “rap music videos portray black women in negative and offensive ways.” Black women and girls were the most likely to agree with that statement.

For now, Cohen says she and her fellow researchers want to make sure the survey data is widely disseminated to young people and policymakers. “Get it in the hands of people who can make a difference in the lives of young black people,” she said.