More US Blacks Favor Going a Separate Way

IN a significant trend for race relations, black Americans are increasingly embracing black nationalism and abandoning the hope of ever achieving racial equality in the United States, according to a nationwide survey.

Of particular note, middle-class blacks - traditionally the driving force behind integration - are increasingly favoring an agenda for black separatism, according to the University of Chicago poll.

``The discontent we saw in the mid- and late-1980s that was concentrated among poor African-Americans has spread among African-Americans of all social backgrounds,'' says Michael Dawson, a University of Chicago political science professor and the author of a report on the survey.

Some 56 percent of black Americans say that blacks should participate in black-only organizations and half said blacks should form their own political party - a jump from just 24 percent in 1988, according to Dr. Dawson.

Sixty-five percent of black Americans also say that in their lifetime they will never have the same opportunities as white citizens. The survey was based on 45-minute telephone interviews with 1,206 black Americans randomly selected across the US.

It is unclear whether these black Americans will express their growing discontent by significantly spurning voting booths or by actually forming black political parties. Only 14 percent want black people to have their own separate nation.

``Many black, middle-class people feel that their concerns have been pushed to the back burner in terms of equality and civil rights issues,'' according to Elijah Anderson, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

``The fact that a lot of people want to send white society a message really speaks to the frustration and the growing despair within the black community,'' he says.

The survey suggests that candidates for Congress in November, and in the 1996 presidential ballot, will have to work harder than in many years to rally black voters. ``If the candidates don't go out and really speak to the concerns of black people, you'll see more and more voter apathy,'' Dr. Anderson says.

Democrats must heed black discontent or risk losing a bloc of party faithful that has frequently provided a crucial swing vote, the analysts say.

``Blacks will stop going to the polls and mindlessly supporting candidates simply because they're Democractic Party candidates,'' says Eugene Pincham, a community activist in Chicago and a retired Illinois Appellate Court justice.

The survey also helps explain a recent shift in the strategies of black leaders.

In the past several months, centrist black leaders have given ear to Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and other ultra-nationalists.

Also, Benjamin Chavis, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has steered the civil rights organization toward what is deemed a more nationalist agenda than before - shaping programs more according to the identity and concrete interests of blacks than according to universal ideas like racial harmony, for example.

Despite the opposition of some directors of the NAACP, Dr. Chavis has downplayed the organization's traditional efforts at integration and sought to help the urban poor combat such concerns as crime and drug abuse.

The survey ``is really quite provocative because it speaks of a turnaround in thinking from integration to a kind of resignation with the status quo,'' says Anderson, who is also author of a 1999 book, ``Street Wise.''

A rise of black nationalism is being fueled by a mix of four trends, as in four other periods in US history since the 1850s, says Manning Marable, professor of history and political science at Columbia University:

* First, the gap in material well-being between blacks and whites has widened. Between 1988 and 1992, the mean income for black households fell by 4.7 percent compared to a 3 percent drop in mean income for white households, according to the Census Bureau.

* Second, the nation's two major political parties have failed to provide a significant agenda for advancing equality. President Clinton has not aggressively sought a clear plan for aiding the urban poor, says Dr. Marable, an adviser to the Congressional Black Caucus, and other political analysts.

The Clinton administration has ``explicitly distanced itself from the articulation of an urban policy; there is no urban agenda by Clinton,'' says Marable, an adviser to the Congressional Black Caucus.

* Third, black middle-class groups have not effectively led the black community because of frequent disputes over ideology and strategy.

* Finally, the black population itself has undergone significant demographic changes. The percentage of black families earning more than $50,000 increased from 10 percent to 14 percent of the black population between 1970 and 1990, while the percentage of black families earning less than $10,000 rose from 21 percent to 26 percent of the black population during the same period.

``When all four of these conditions occur, you will get a rise of black separatism,'' says Marable, director of Columbia's Institute for Research in African-American Studies.

Such a reaction is not new. Similar surges also occurred in the 1850s, 1880s, 1920s, and 1960s, he says.

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