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Poll Reveals a Contradictory Portrait Shaded With Promise and Doubt

As the distance between the races narrows, new tensions have emerged in the way black men perceive themselves and their lives.
As the distance between the races narrows, new tensions have emerged in the way black men perceive themselves and their lives. (Michel du Cille / The Washington Post)

· Six in 10 black men said their collective problems owe more to what they have failed to do themselves rather than "what white people have done to blacks." At the same time, half reported they have been treated unfairly by the police, and a clear majority said the economic system is stacked against them.

· More than half said they place a high value on marriage -- compared with 39 percent of black women -- and six in 10 said they strongly value having children. Yet at least 38 percent of all black fathers in the survey are not living with at least one of their young children, and a third of all never-married black men have a child. Six in 10 said that black men disrespect black women.

· Three in four said they value being successful in a career, more than either white men or black women. Yet majorities also said that black men put too little emphasis on education and too much emphasis on sports and sex.

· Eight in 10 said they are satisfied with their lives, and six in 10 reported that it is a "good time" to be a black man in the United States. But six in 10 also reported they often are the targets of racial slights or insults, two-thirds said they believe the courts are more likely to convict black men than whites, and a quarter reported they have been physically threatened or attacked because they are black.

· Black men said they strongly believe in the American Dream -- nine in 10 black men would tell their sons they can become anything they want to in life. But this vision of the future is laden with cautions and caveats: Two-thirds also would warn their sons that they will have to be better and work harder than whites for equal rewards.

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Samuel Thompson, 57, grew up in the South, coping with Alabama's Jim Crow laws. Despite it all, he went to college and became a special-education teacher in Chicago. But when he thinks of black men, he doesn't conjure up an image of older, accomplished black men such as himself. He thinks of young black men, and he is appalled at what he sees.

"They tend to goof off, and very few are going to college. I don't see in them a will to succeed," Thompson said. "They don't see the point of using good language. They emulate who they see on TV or on videos or who they hear on the radio."

Thompson said he was not surprised that so many black men in the poll adopted a harsh view of African American males as a group.

"That's the reality," he said. "The ones that sit back and blame things on other people, they're the ones who don't go very far. They just want sympathy and handouts."

Thompson was among the majority of black men in the poll who said the group's problems stem from its own failures. Black men were more likely than whites to express such sentiments. And while such negative views were held across the board, better-educated, affluent black men are most likely to criticize black men for not taking education seriously enough.

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