Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Race and Success

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Race and Success

Article excerpt

New poll shows Americans view race as of little importance in determining one's success in life. But some scholars argue that the survey is a `crude' way to measure such a complex issue.

Almost all Americans consider education and hard work to be the most important factors in achieving succeed in life. Race, according to a new Gallup poll, is considered relatively unimportant -- even, perhaps surprisingly, among many African Americans.

The poll, titled "Haves and Have-Nots: Perceptions of Fairness and Opportunity," asked 5,001 adults a series of thirty-nine questions about their economic status and their perceptions about what it takes to succeed in America today.

Ninety-two percent said that hard work, initiative, and getting the fight education or training were very important, compared to 33 percent who said gender was important and 30 percent who said race or ethnicity was important. Among Whites, race and ethnicity came out twelfth in importance, but even among Blacks and Hispanics it was only tenth and eleventh, respectively. Other factors that were considered more important than race but less important than education were parents and family, connections and knowing the fight people, good looks, inherited money, and good luck.

Dr. Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, says that the Gallup poll results tally with other data.

"African Americans say race is important, but they have it in perspective. They say education is the critical factor. And they are fight," he says.

Patterson, whose forthcoming book, Rituals of Blood: Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries, explores the role race has played in America, says that the Gallup poll results should not be surprising.

"It's only surprising if one looks only at what African American leaders say. But it's been a long time now that African Americans have been playing down race and saying it is not important," says Patterson, who adds that African Americans have always emphasized education.

"When you read the interviews with ex-slaves, they knew that education was the key," he says, although he also notes, "In my father's generation, not having a college degree was not catastrophic" compared with today, when a college degree has become more fled to economic success.

Dr. Raymond Winbush, director of Fisk University's Race Relations Institute, had a different take on the poll results, which he agrees are consistent with previous Gallup polls.

"Fish never feel water because they're in it. Sometimes you can be so immersed in racism you don't feel it," he says.

Poor people, Winbush says, aren't in a position to recognize the importance race plays in whether people achieve success or not.

"I know this sounds so elitist, [but they] can't do the social analysis," he explains. "I grew up poor in Cleveland. We weren't concerned about broad sweeping trends. We were concerned with immediate problems."

Senior scientist Jack Ludwig, who directed the poll for Gallup agrees with Winbush -- up to a point.

"I believe there is something to that," says Ludwig, who cites data from a Gallup poll on race that was released in 1997 which indicated that African Americans with more education and higher incomes identify race as a more significant factor than lower income African Americans.

And separate polling by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies showed that as income and educational levels increased, African Americans assigned a greater importance to the influences of race. …

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