Survey Details the Lives of Black Youth

Martha Irvine, AP, Feb. 1, 2007

Decades after the civil rights movement’s greatest victories, black youth often see a world rife with discrimination, a new survey says. And yet they remain optimistic about their chances for affecting social change.

Researchers at the University of Chicago, who were releasing the study Thursday, say their findings also show that these youth are complex when it comes to such issues as sex education and hip-hop music.

Cathy Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and the report’s lead author, said the aim of the survey was to provide data that goes beyond broad stereotypes.

It found, for instance, that while 58 percent of black youth say they listen to rap music every day, the majority of them also think its videos are too violent and often portray black women in an offensive way.

“I enjoy rap music—I love hip-hop. I love totally different types of music,” says Lauren Guy, a 24-year-old substitute teacher from Oak Park, Ill., who participated in the survey. “What I don’t like is how women are degraded in music and how violence is glorified.”

The survey, which researchers call the Black Youth Project, details the responses of nearly 1,600 black, Latino and white participants, ages 15 to25, from several Midwestern cities.

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More than half of African-American and Latino respondents said they believe government officials care very little about them, while 44 percent of white youth said the same. Just over half of black youth also were the most likely to feel their education was, on average, poorer than that of white youth. About a third of whites agreed with that statement. And 61 percent of African-Americans who were surveyed said they feel held back by discrimination.

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A large majority of youth in the survey believe, for instance, that they can make a difference by participating in politics—with 79 percent black and white youth and 77 percent of Latino youth saying they feel that way.

They’re also using their spending power through “buycotts”—buying products because they like a company’s social or political values. A quarter of black youth said they’d participated in a buycott in the last 12 months, while 23 percent of white youth and 20 percent of Hispanic youth said the same. Cohen said several of the respondents mentioned the Motorola (RED) campaign, aimed at helping fund the fight against AIDS in Africa.

Other survey findings included the following:

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* 81 percent of white youth, 79 percent of Hispanic youth and 76 percent of black youth disagree with the government funding abstinence-only education;

* 76 percent of African-American youth, 74 percent of Hispanics and 68 percent of whites think condoms should be provided at high schools.

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The survey, which was funded by the Ford Foundation, has a margin of error of less than plus-or-minus 2 percentage points.

[The survey mentioned in the story—entitled “Black Youth Project Survey”—can be downloaded here as a PDF file.]

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