CNN takes sobering look at racial divide

September 19, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Numbers and people, people and numbers -- they seem to add up to problems almost insurmountable in the first sobering segment of an election-year documentary series, "Democracy in America," premiering this weekend on cable's CNN.

In "The Nation's Agenda: A House Divided" (at 10 p.m. tomorrow), anchor Bernard Shaw and reporters Norma Quarles and Kathy Slobogin tackle the issue of race in America. And despite a focus on some innovative efforts that seem to have worked in closing "the racial divide," the outlook distresses.

Some of the statistics which punctuate reports from Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and New York:

* The majority of black residents of the U.S. live as segregated from whites as 30 years ago.

* A black child born in America today is twice as likely to die in the first year of life as a white child.

* In Detroit, a quarter of the city's population is on welfare. Yet unless one has a job earning at least six to seven dollars an hour, and with good health benefits, it can be more beneficial to remain on welfare.

* In that city's school system, half of the black youths who start public school drop out before high school graduation.

* And in a Chicago elementary class, when asked who knows someone who has been shot, fully two-thirds of the pupils raise their hands.

"Are we doomed to be two nations?" asks Mr. Shaw.

Yet the show finds some other, more encouraging numbers -- although viewers may find themselves pessimistically measuring these small gains against the larger negative statistics.

* About two-thirds of American blacks, most of whom trace their families back to slavery, have, in fact, moved into the working class.

* In a Chicago program begun 15 years ago, in which families from wholly black housing projects were moved to integrated neighborhoods, tracking studies show 90 percent of the youngsters are now attending college or are working.

* In an East Harlem school district in New York, an alternative school choice program has sharply improved test scores and sends students into elite special high schools at three times the city average.

* And in San Francisco, a radio program aimed at reaching gang members has resulted in a club that, in five years, has sent more than 100 young people to college through scholarships and grants.

Mr. Shaw, however, caps the show with the realistic perspective that "finding the political will and the money to address the entrenched problems of the underclass is a daunting task."

"A House Divided" is the first of six one-hour election specials on CNN Sundays at 10 p.m. through Oct. 25. The next two shows examine issues of the economy and government, respectively. Then three shows will profile Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, President Bush and the competing vice presidential candidates.

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