Blacks Show New Trust In U.S. Government The number of African-Americans who have confidence in government is nearly twice the level of whites — a sharp turnaround from previous years. Blacks have never trusted government in the same way whites have, but their level of trust, or distrust, normally tracks that of white Americans.
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Blacks Show New Trust In U.S. Government

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Blacks Show New Trust In U.S. Government

Blacks Show New Trust In U.S. Government

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.


And Melissa Block.

The election of President Obama has boosted African-Americans' trust in government. Thats according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center and that marks a shift. Traditionally, polls have shown that black Americans have less faith in government than white Americans do.

As part our series on Trust in Government, NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: African-Americans don't have a monolithic view of government, but most blacks are Democrats and trust in government usually increases when it's your party in power. So, in January of 2009, confidence in government really spiked for African-Americans when Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

(Soundbite of chanting)

President BARACK OBAMA: I stand here today, humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust youve bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

CORLEY: One year in, the Obama administration gets credit for the new health care law. Judson Mitchell, a retired college administrator, says that's a clear indication the president wants to help people.

Dr. JUDSON MITCHELL (College Administrator, Retired): Well, there's 30 million people that don't have insurance. I mean, that's what government can do for people, is to ensure that those people have some coverage because the current health system did not work.

CORLEY: African-Americans' trust in government has tripled from a low point of 12 percent in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, to 37 percent in the Pew Research study.

Carroll Doherty is the centers associate director.

Mr. CARROLL DOHERTY (Associate Director, Pew Research Center): It's sort of the countertrend to what we're seeing with a lot of the anti-government demonstrations. It's not that African-Americans are entirely content with government, but the way the trends are among whites, the African-Americans stand out as having a less negative view of government currently than whites do certainly.

(Soundbite of conversations)

CORLEY: MacArthur's Restaurant on Chicago's west side is a popular spot, especially for the Sunday after-church dinner crowd.

Unidentified Woman: Do you mind the chicken mashed in the dressing?

CORLEY: Llou Johnson is just beginning to eat his meal. Big Llou , as he's called, has an even bigger voice. He's an actor and voice-over artist, and says he trusts government.

Mr. LLOU Johnson (Actor/Voice-Over Artist): It has been government that has taken us from slavery to where we can live and do what we want how we want - in most cases.

CORLEY: But Mary Rabb, a registered nurse, has a decidedly different view.

Ms. MARY RABB (Registered Nurse): Black people don't trust government.

CORLEY: Rabb says she likes President Obama but has more of a wait-and-see attitude about government in general.

Ms. RABB: Local government will be all out in their neighborhoods and talking about what programs they're going to have available. And when it's all said and done, we don't see any changes in their neighborhoods. You know what Im saying?

CORLEY: Shayla Nunnally is a professor of political science and African-American studies at the University of Connecticut. She says while the Obama factor has caused an uptick in trust levels for blacks, historically it's been an all together different story.

Professor SHAYLA NUNNALLY (Political Science/African-American Studies, University of Connecticut): Throughout time, we've generally seen that African-Americans have been less trusting than whites and other racial groups, as far as political trust.

CORLEY: Blame slavery, Jim Crow laws, and then there was the Tuskegee Experiment, the 40-year study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Department in which hundreds of black men were left untreated for syphilis.

When President Bill Clinton apologized in 1997, 94-year-old Herman Shaw, one of the last survivors, was present.

Mr. HERMAN Shaw (Subject, Tuskegee Experiment): The wounds that were inflicted upon us cannot be undone.

CORLEY: A turning point came in 1965, when after a long civil rights struggle, the Voting Rights Bill was signed. And then an almost euphoric surge of confidence with President Obama's election. Even so, the Pew study reports that nearly half the African-Americans surveyed, 48 percent, said they are frustrated with government.

Professor MICHAEL DAWSON (Political Science, University of Chicago): The type of hope that was generated through the Obama campaign has been pretty much squandered.

CORLEY: Michael Dawson is a University of Chicago political science professor who studies race and politics.

Prof. DAWSON: From the majority of African-Americans' perspective, its directly related to believing that the government has not done all that it could or all that was promised, in terms of improving the situation of all Americans particularly those who are disadvantaged.

CORLEY: And not doing enough to combat high levels of unemployment and racial profiling. That analysis rings true for 40-year-old Carl West, who recently attended a panel discussion on whether the Obama administration should have a black agenda.

Mr. CARL WEST: An agenda of how a disgusted minority community are going to be taken care of not taken care of in a sense of handouts but how we're going to see a situation that will make us have trust in our government. 'Cause at the end of the day, he is our government.

CORLEY: West says it's really too early to say if government has improved under President Obama. But he and other African-Americans say since the country's problems didn't happen overnight, they're willing to give him more time to fix them.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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