Are happy days here for blacks in America?

November 09, 1999|By Julianne Malveaux

I DON'T know about you, but I get some of my news from the Electronic Urban Report (which you can subscribe to by sending e-mail to subscribeEUR@eurweb.com), the two or three times weekly "drum" for thousands of African-Americans.

Sometimes the report makes me hoot, and sometimes it makes me holler, but its Nov. 3 edition left me stunned. It reported on a Time magazine claim that African-American people, by and large, are "happy."

I suppose I wasn't feeling the happiness. I asked my office staff members, relatively well-adjusted African-American women, about their happiness quotient, and they rolled their eyes and said they were not sure where they would find happy black folks. I asked a group of folks, trying to finish a project, about their happiness index, and they doggone near bit my happy head off.

The night before I heard about the happy black folks, I had attended the ordination of a sister friend who was glowing as she accepted her call, but she was hardly happy when she preached that she would be any place there was a mission. She was challenged, not happy.

But according to Time magazine and something called the "African American Monitor," a door-to-door poll taken by Don Coleman Advertising/Yankelovich Partners this spring, happy black folks are everywhere!

Here is how EUR reports it: "Time magazine claims that African-Americans are a whole heck of a lot less on edge and more satisfied with the quality of their lives now than they were in '92.

According to a survey published by Time and compiled by Don Coleman Advertising and Yankelovich Partners, of1,063 African-Americans, 89 percent said they are generally happy with their life compared with only 56 percent in '92.

Forty-eight percent said they are concerned about gang violence, compared with 50 percent in '95 and 70 percent in '92.

Seventy-five percent of blacks surveyed felt it necessary to keep up with the latest technology compared with 69 percent of whites, but the poll also found that only 28 percent of African-Americans have a computer in the home compared with 50 percent of whites.

The Nov. 8 issue of Time has even more information. It notes that fewer African-Americans are concerned about the lack of role models, that more African-Americans than whites feel religion is important and say satisfaction comes from their families. According to this survey, African-Americans are less likely to use the Internet than whites, but more likely to watch television. Don Coleman Advertising found some complacent African-American people, but were they more complacent than whites? Time magazine didn't say, choosing to report racial differences on health, leisure, technology, religion and family, but not on general happiness.

No matter.

While I bristle at the characterization of African-Americans that comes from the Time poll, I recognize the fact that there are far too many "happy" black people out there. Ebonically speaking, we so happy that we forget where we come from and where we are going. Thus we are able to advocate on ballot and electoral matters that are frankly outside of our own self-interest.

We want school vouchers because we have lost confidence in public schools, but we haven't focused on the hidden agenda behind school voucher movements. We are angry at black leaders who don't toe the line, so we are willing to elect flawed whites who will be even less likely to respond to African-American interests.

Happy black folks everywhere? You have to chuckle at the depiction of happy-go-lucky Negroes, much like those just let off massa's plantations more than a century ago, who were joyful and pleasant and full of appreciation.

To be sure, economic expansion is beginning to lift African-American people up, and more and more are entering the labor force, and moving out of poverty. At the same time, with poverty rates exceeding 28 percent, one in four African-Americans is poor, and 40 percent of African-American children live in poverty.

The Time poll is, if nothing else, confirmation of the fact that you can lie with statistics. That is, unless someone is prepared to make the case that all these poor folks are happy.

Time magazine summarized their results by saying that the survey of African-Americans finds "a mood of optimism" among black folks. How does one move from optimism to equality, closing the gaps that exist between black and white income, black and white wealth? Of course, such a survey wouldn't ask such pointed questions. The answers might, after all, suggest that there's a lot less "happiness" out there than survey questions are measuring.

Julianne Malveaux is a syndicated columnist.

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