Black view of Reagan term: a challenge; Along with criticism of budget cuts is a will to succeed anyway
Washington — * "Budget cuts signal war on the poor." * "Lyndon B. Johnson and John Kennedy launched a war on poverty. President Reagan seems to be launching a war on the poor."
* "The rhetorical excesses of the Reagan administration cannot cloak the discernible drift toward a federal policy, domestic and international, that has as its purpose the denial of equality to blacks."
These quotations--a headline, a cartoon caption, and the opening of a front-page editorial--are from the nation's two largest black newspapers, the New York Amsterdam News and the Afro-American.
Many black leaders agree with these ideas. They argue that the black community already is beginning to suffer from the cutbacks of the Reagan economic program. Black youth unemployment has hit new heights, rising to over 50 percent in some cities during the first few months of the Reagan administration. Meanwhile, school lunch subsidies and student loans and aid have been cut--all spelling a negative effect on black hopes for a better education says the National Urban Coalition.
On the other hand, an increasing number of black people--their ranks are still small in comparison to the apprehensive many feel that administration policies offer a positive challenge to minorities.
Some black business people, like Berniece E. Travers, a Richmond, Va., entrepreneur, say the Reagan administration's tight budget policy may prove to be a "mixed blessing in disguise" for blacks. "Black people will have to do for themselves." Mrs. Travers says. "And those who do for themselves will pull other blacks up with them."
Unquestionably, however, major black newspapers and nationally recognized black leaders -Benjamin L. Hooks of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Vernon Jordon of the National Urban League, the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and others -have been waging vocal warfare on President Reagan and his budgetary policies ever since he took office nine months ago.
Their attacks indicate a growing wariness by blacks of Mr. Reagan's policies that cut funds for programs they see as vital to black progress. These include cuts in the CETA program (job training); programs to fight poverty, particularly the sacking of the Community Services Agency; programs to support affirmative action, including the possible dilution of equal opportunity, civil rights, and affirmative action efforts; the food stamps program, and programs to help minority business enterprises.
Acting on these critical views, the Black Leadership Forum and National Black Leadership Roundtable, representing more than 150 groups, have organized "Operation Strike Back" to challenge Reagan's policies. "We as blacks feel ourselves under seige, and have no other recourse than to mount a full-scale campaign for our collective and individual survival," they declared in a recent "call to action."
In wide-ranging interviews with black leaders, business people, aand average citizens in Washington and elsewhere, several themes consistently were echoed:
* The reagan administration is insensitive to the needs of minorities.
* Its policies favor the affluent, "taking from the poor and giving to the rich."
* Budget cuts are destroying agencies designed to provide services to the poor, disadvantaged, and underachieving people of the nation.
* Black people did not vote Republican; so they are not included in the rewards of the Reagan victory.
Yet there is diversity among black views of the Reagan administration. Some black business people and professionals, while generally not happy with cutbacks in programs that target aid to the needy, sees an opportunity in the Reagan economic environment -if blacks will seize it.
"Reagan's policies will make us self-sufficient, will unify black people, will help white people discover that black people are not the only recipients of welfare, food stamps, and so-called giveaway programs," says Goldie Watkins, a New York public health professional.
"(Are Reagan's policies) a setback? Yes. A disaster? No. Nothing is a disaster as long as you can recoup and rebuild. We blacks have our churches, our votes, our business to help us."
Acting on her belief that blacks can boost themselves under Reagan, Mrs. Travers along with her two sons is opening a convenience store in "a neighborhood without a store" in Richmond. She says she believes administration economic policies may slow black progress, but says that this policy is a challenge to the black person who dares to think success.
"Reagan politics forces us to learn economics, to set up our own enterprises, to develop our own economic clout," she said. "We will have to get together and work together just to survive. This challenge separates the men from the boys."
Mrs. Travers expresses one precaution."The President is naive. . . to think that the rich will use their tax breaks to reinvest in business and jobs for the poor," she says.
Black people will suffer setbacks in the short run, but "a stable economy is good for everyone," says Debrinia Madison-Hines, a law school graduate working at a Washington law firm while awaiting her bar exam results. Blacks must remember "we are criticizing the administration before its plans take full effect," she says.
H. Ann Handy, a black Chicago businesswoman, is glad to see many federal programs go. "I am in business," she says. "I have never been gung-ho for programs. I never felt most programs reached the people who needed them."
She prefers the development of jobs. Programs set up black bureaucracies that leave the poor "still eating neckbones" and not always getting off welfare, she says. "Work makes people feel responsible," she adds.
Melvin L. Bradley, the top black adviser within the White House, agrees that the administation should not be a cause of concern to blacks. "There is no need for any group of people to be in exile just because a certain party is in the White House," he says. "No matter who wins the presidency, black people should always win."
Mr. Bradley says the President is committed to helping all citizens. A team of black White house staffers is working together with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel R. Pierce Jr. to formulate an urban policy statement for Reagan that will address the problems besetting the nation's cities, he says.
Reagan backers add that the President already has issued an executive order that increases federal support of black colleges by $9.6 million and sets up a study commission headed by Vice-President George Bush to develop a program to assure continued progress of these schools.
And they note that the number of black presidential appointees has doubled since June. The total reached 50 by Sept. 30 compared with 24 two months earlier , says Catherine Iino of the Joint Center for Political Study, a Washington black think tank.
Nonetheless, the majority of blacks remain anxious about the future under Reagan economic policies. Juliet Blackburn Beaman, who works for a black manufacturer in Atlanta, echoes this concern:
"Like everyone else I am worried and horrified. The administration's changes are explosive, disruptive. The big boys will survive. But ...the private sector is not offering the good life to all Americans."
Abner Darby, who runs a community social service agency in Lynn, Mass., is not so much critical of White House policies as of the national mood that accompanies them. "My quarrel is not with President Reagan, but the people who support him. The 'immoral majority' spews racism in their radio and TV ministry. They use a few blacks for window dressing to sing a few songs."