Study Uncovers Strong Sentiments of Black America

Web Resources

A sweeping survey of African-Americans reveals a widespread distrust of financial institutions, a shrinking digital divide, and significant optimism about the future. Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One, which sponsored the study, and Bruce Connor of Yankelovich, the group responsible for the poll, explain the findings' significance.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, both presumed major party presidential candidates are vying for the Latino vote. We'll ask a roundtable of voters for their take on how the courtship is going. And, we speak with the first female head of a major civil rights organization for Latinos. It's our Wisdom Watch conversation.

But first, African-Americans, who are they really? Do they want to be called black or African-American? Are they tech savvy? Do they have or want friends of other races? Are they as religious as we've been led to believe? All these questions are considered in a new study, Black America Today. It was commissioned by Radio One, the country's largest radio broadcasting company targeting African-Americans.

Cathy Hughes, founder and chairman of the board at Radio One is with us to talk about the study, along with Bruce Connor, senior account director at the research firm, Yankelovich, which conducted the study. Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. CATHY HUGHES (Founder and Chairman, Radio One): Hello, Michel.

Mr. BRUCE CONNOR (Senior Account Director, Yankelovich): Pleasure to be here.

Ms. HUGHES: It is such an honor. Thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing us to share some time with you.

MARTIN: No. Thank you. And Cathy, so let me start with you. Most companies that can afford to do so conduct market research, but this study is interesting because number one, it's so broad, it surveys black folks from the ages of 13 to 74, and you're making it public. What are you trying to accomplish with this study?

Ms. HUGHES: Well, number one, Michel, that's a great first question. Most companies research their product in relationship to the - to their target demographic. We always have been heavily into research in terms of our music, our air personalities, do our listeners want news, do they want more news, less news, but it dawned upon us that no one had ever researched the black community itself and we did research first to identify the fact that nothing was out there this extensive, and because of the diversification of Radio One, we're in TV One now, giant magazine Black Planet, Interactive One, we sell - we were obligated to first and foremost find out who we were and certainly who we served, who our audience was because, you know, we're upwards of 80 percent every week of reaching the entire black community in America.

MARTIN: What are some of the headlines for you? As a person who's been serving and involved with the black community for some time, were there any surprises for you?

Ms. HUGHES: Oh, my goodness, so many, Michel. Number one, I was just kind of - it was like my mouth was hanging open when I looked at the research dealing with the high confidence level the African-Americans still have in public education, in the school system because, you know, if I could just back up one minute, one of the most important things about this research is we have believed in certain truisms that were, in fact, myths that not only were perpetuated through the black and white communities, but I mean, it - we believed them. We believed that there were certain things that black folks, you know, all adhere to.

But there was no quantification. There was no qualification of that. I believed that black folks love black radio but if someone had to back up and say, well, Ms. Hughes, how do you know that? OK. Where's your evidence? Who told you that? And I've been saying that for decades, since my days at Howard University. So that was the most important aspect, but at last it has been quantified. It has been documented what in fact is going on.

Certain things such as the spirituality of black folks, yes, that is totally true. And the fact that one in four African-Americans feel that they've been discriminated against in the last three months. Again, you read a lot about that black folks feel that, you know, they're not being treated fairly and yet where was the documentation for that?

The optimism and enthusiasm of our youth, it surprised me. I've been preaching entrepreneurism since, I mean, when I was even at Howard on the faculty, I was telling young black broadcasters, you may never get a job in this industry. Think about starting your own newspaper if you're in print journalism or start your own radio station. These young people want to be entrepreneurs. My generation, we wanted to grow up and get a good job. These young people overwhelmingly do not want to work in corporate America.

MARTIN: That's fascinating. That is fascinating. Bruce Connor, I'm going to bring you in for a couple of minutes. First of all, if you would just give us a word or two on how we can have confidence in these findings. Tell us a little bit about your methods and secondly, I wanted to ask, were you surprised by any of these findings as a person who's been in the research field for quite some time?

Mr. CONNOR: Well, let me - let me start with your first question. What we did was we talked with 3,400 individuals. We did it both on the phone and on the Web, and the reason that we did that is in this day and age, even in the general population, but also more specifically among blacks, you can't just do phone. There are people that you don't reach because some people are on cell phone only. We were particularly interested in getting to teenagers and twenty-something's, and a lot of them are much more on the Web. So that - what we managed to do was to find a sample of people that were very representative of blacks across the country as a whole and, you know, matched census demographics and so on.

In terms of your - of your second question, first of all, this was just fascinating to work on. I mean, I'm a research junkie, and one of the things that I found most illuminating was that - how - how attitudes about sort of solidarity in the black community, but also openness to the broader community varied by age. And I suppose it's not particularly surprising, but, you know, if you think about Barack Obama's speech in Washington here a couple of months ago, it sort of has that same theme.

When we looked at younger blacks, you know, there were different segments. Some of them had almost all black friends and some of them had friends that were - were from across the broader community, and different attitudes about whether that was important or not. But generally, you know, younger blacks were very open, you know, showed strong solidarity with the black community but also were looking out into the broader world.

MARTIN: I agree with you. I think those were all very interesting issues. If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Cathy Hughes, founder of Radio One, and Bruce Connor of the Yankelovich research organization about a new survey of the opinions and attitudes of black Americans.

One of the headlines was that the digital divide that we've talked about so much doesn't really seem to exist anymore, that among African-Americans, 68 percent are online. Among all Americans that figure is about what, 70, 71 percent. Does either of you have a theory about why - what that means? Cathy, do you think it means that technology is...

Ms. HUGHES: Number one, that was one of those aha moments for me because I have personally participated in fundraisers to try to get, you know, young black students into various programs, get computers in schools, which I'm glad that I did, but I was always attracted to the project based on the fact that I didn't want a digital divide. I didn't want our children being left behind.

It was amazing to find the senior citizens who go to the library in the mornings and email each other, OK? So, you know, this whole notion that because I might be, you know, shaking my behind in a music video, does not mean that I'm not, you know, totally computer illiterate. It does not mean that I do not go to church on Sunday. Again, these myths that we're monolithic, that if we do one thing that we're one way, is the best part of this study because it proves that that's not true.

MARTIN: Bruce Connor, did you notice any areas in which there was a strong generational divide? There was a lot of - there was a lot of unanimity of opinion on a number of things like confidence in public institutions, the belief in education, a belief in respecting the opinions of elders. Were there any areas in which the generations really did not agree?

Mr. CONNOR: Well, the thing I talked about a minute ago is, I think, the first example of that, and you know, again, as Barack Obama said, I think we can attribute that to people's life experience being different across the generations.

You know, obviously, the whole use of technology, I mean, by and large, the things that were different if you simply look at age across the generations, in lots of ways parallel what goes on in the general population. But when you drill down one more level, as Radio One wanted to do, what you see is lots more variation. So there are groups at all age levels with different positions.

MARTIN: That is interesting, too. Cathy Hughes, needless - it's not surprising that you'd be interested in how African-Americans relate to the media and the survey showed a lot of dissatisfaction with the way African-Americans are portrayed in mainstream media, both entertainment and others. But the black media was not off the hook.

Ms. HUGHES: That's right.

MARTIN: Fifty percent of those surveyed said they didn't relate to the way blacks are portrayed on most TV shows, and a polarity, 40 percent, believe that black radio and TV are reinforcing a negative stereotype. As the head of the country's largest black on broadcasting company aimed at - in radio, do you feel implicated by that figure?

Ms. HUGHES: Yes and no. I feel the responsibility that all of us in black media have to assume. It's one of the things we've tried to, you know, stay on top of. Years ago when Dr. C. Delores Tucker and Tipper Gore led their first demonstrations against the lyrics of songs that were being played on hip-hop radio stations, we were exempted because I was already a hit of that issue because it was offensive to me. I did not want to be responsible for something that was insulting to me passing it onto my audience. So we've tried to stay on top of it.

One of the problems, as you know, Michel Martin, I mean, you're like the only woman who's ever done what you've done, in both, you know, print, any electronic media. There's such a scarcity of product. There's such a scarcity of availability. Everything is in the same vein that comes out of TV, Hollywood and the music industry that depicts us as this monolithically, always happy, always telling jokes. Even though Bill Cosby was allowed to do a upper middle-class black show, it was still a sitcom. It was still a situation comedy.

You know, we don't have their variations, we don't have options, and that's what we are trying to provide with Radio One and TV One. Some of our most popular formats right now are gospel and talk format.

MARTIN: Wow, that's fascinating. Unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it there. It's a rich topic. You know, one more quick question for you, Bruce. What else do you want to know? Having done this comprehensive study, is there anything else you'd want to know?

Mr. CONNOR: Boy, I just can't wait to dive back in and drill some more. We've got a model now that lets us put people in these segments and so I just am anxious to use it to help Radio One do the programming to help their advertisers figure out how to talk to their audience.

MARTIN: And Cathy, here's a final very quick question. What do you prefer, black or African-American?

Ms. HUGHES: Both.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK.

Ms. HUGHES: Cut right down the middle. Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Sure. Cathy Hughes is the founder of Radio One and TV One. She joined us by phone from Cambridge, Maryland. Bruce Connor is the senior account director with Yankelovich. It's a research organization. He joined us from member station WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. You can find out more about the study at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore. I thank you both so much.

Ms. HUGHES: Thank you.

Mr. CONNOR: Thank you.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.