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Two weeks ago a poll by the “nonpartisan” Pew Research Center claimed that African Americans saw a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor Blacks, and that nearly four-in-ten Blacks say that because of the diversity within their community, Blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race.
And like as can be expected with any type of poll that projects negativity as it relates to Blacks, it made the front page of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, which I will add was having a banner week what with O.J. and Barry Bonds in the news.
But what followed is what’s got me scratching my head.
As soon as the poll was released, not only did mainstream news buy into it, but so did the Blacks. During the African-American Knowledge Transfer Summit here in Los Angeles, a one day summit that brought together some of the brightest minds in Los Angeles to discuss the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next and solutions to the problems that plague Black America, the Pew poll was brought up on more than one occasion as an authority on the status of Blacks.
Blacks needed a poll to tell them about their status as much as Starbucks really needed Magic Johnson to convince them that Blacks drink coffee. C’mon now people.
And not that I’m a conspiracy theorist or anything, but like Public Enemy said, “You can’t trust it.” Why is it that it seems that the polls on us Blacks are never positive? I mean things might not be great, but we have made some strides in the past 40 years. You’re reading this paper, right?
My eyes are wide open. I see the plight of Black folks everyday I wake up and venture outside of my house.
I’ll start with the man that sleeps on the steps of the church across the street from my house. He wakes up and starts getting dressed for work around the same time as I do. Packs up his box, hides it behind a tree, and heads off down the street in his suit and tie.
I always enjoy my conversations with Tristan and the crew at my local Starbucks, most of which are young Black men and women in college, as I stand in line with other Black men and women on their way to work.
Just outside of Starbucks, I am usually accosted by a group of young brothers and sisters who call themselves the New Black Panther Party who try to guilt me into supporting the cause. But in actuality, the cause is a 40 ounce and some weed. Go figure?
And on the way to work, there’s man at the freeway onramp that never fails to ask me for my spare change if I get caught at the light.
Around lunch, I usually take a trip to my grandmother’s house to check on her. She’s 87 years old and lives in the house that she and my grandfather bought some forty years ago. And while she’s worked and paid her dues, including raising her children and her children’s children and taking care of my grandfather when he fell ill to cancer a couple of years ago, she’s been reduced to living off of $700 a month, much of which goes towards household bills and medical prescriptions with little extra for other stuff.
If I carpooled, after work I’ll pick up my co-worker Vince in Compton during which time I will pass by many empty lots and boarded up buildings, Black men and women on the streets either drugged out, prostituting, or slanging. I’ll also pass more churches, motels, and liquor stores than I care to count. And to be honest, that’s pretty much the scene as I travel down Main Street to Manchester to drop him off.
Back in my neighborhood which is a good mix of hood and money, oh and of course gentrification, I can swoop through Leimert Park and stop at Eso Won bookstore and the Lucy Florence Coffee House and engage in a meaningful dialogue with my elders on what it means to be Black, the problems we face, and our solutions.
For dinner, I may drop into Simply Wholesome in the Black Beverly Hills of Los Angeles, Windsor Hills, and there I’ll run into Black L.A.’s elite middle class.
So you see, like I said, I don’t need a poll to tell me the class status and attitudes of Blacks in my community, I see it everyday. Furthermore, I am not under the illusion that just because I have a job, a car, and a roof over my head that I am a part of a class of Blacks that has forgotten their way back to the other side of town, or in my case, around the corner and somehow has different values than the sista and brotha living further south.
From the poorest of the poor to the middle class, Blacks still share many of the same values: liberty, justice, and peace with a common agenda of food, shelter, job security and safety. Now our universal access in obtaining the latter list is what really needs to be up for discussion, not our class status or some feeble attempt at trying to separate the Black race even more by feeding us “polls” about ourselves.
Jasmyne Cannick n is a social commentator and activist who is known for addressing the issues others can’t or simply won’t. Chosen as one of ESSENCE Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, at 29, Jasmyne is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and writes a popular daily blog at jasmynecannick.com and myspace.com/jasmynecannick. She resides in Los Angeles and can be reached at