Being a Black Man -- The Poll

Steven A. Holmes and Richard Morin
Washington Post
Monday, June 5, 2006; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staffers Steven A. Holmes , deputy national editor for social policy, and Richard Morin, director of polling,were online Monday, June 5, at noon to field questions and comments about the results of an opinion poll about black men The Post conducted in collaboration with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. Read more about the poll and the "Being a Black Man" project at

The transcript follows:


Richard Morin: Welcome! Thank you for joining us. We have lots of excellent questions so let's begin.


Fort Washington, Md.: The truth is that as bad as racism is, it is just one of the many hurdles that we, as black men, will face in life in America. Shouldn't we should teach this to our children?

Richard Morin: I think the major theme of this story is that racism is only one of the challenges facing black men. Discrimination remains a part of the day-to-day experience of black men: more than six in 10 told us they often are the targets of racial slights and insults. But it is not the only reality.

One finding we found particularly telling was that six in 10 black men said their collective problem owes more to what they have failed to do for themselves, rather than what white people have done to blacks.

In fact, when we asked these black men about the bigest problems facing black men, 68 percent said racial discrimination was a "big problem"--but far more said young black men not taking their educations seriously enough (91 percent), becoming involved in crime (88 percent), drug and alcohol abuse (87 percent) and HIV/AIDS were big problems.

I would suggest this reality is being communicated by black men to their children.


Tallahassee, Fla.: What is the difference between being a black man and a black woman in America? Is the experience different than just being an African American?

Steve Holmes: Yes, there were differences in views and experiences between black men and black women. Black men were much tougher on black men than black women were. Men black men (76 percent) than black women (67 percent) said "being successful in a career" was very important to them. More black women (70 percent) than black men (54 percent) said "living a religious life" was very important to them. More black men (59 percent) than black women (44 percent) said they worked full time. More black men (41 percent) than black women (30 percent) have lived or visited a foreign country.

It is true that black men and black women are closer in views and experiences to each other than they are to white people. But it is a mistake to think they are monolithic.


Washington, D.C.: I read your articles. How sensible is it to write an article based on surveys of black men that excludes the LARGE numbers of black men that are in prison? Doesn't this skew the results and the overall tone of this article? With more young black men in prison or some other form of incarceration, how can you effectively tell the story of the black man and overlook this demographic?

Richard Morin: This is an important question. There are many black men in jail and prison. As we noted in the piece, we could not randomly sample this population. Our results do not reflect their views.

But I do not think it is a fatal problem, or a reason not to have done the survey. Here's our thinking:

About 8 percent of all adult black men are incarcerated, which we wrote in the piece. That means these results can be interpreted to reflect the views of more than nine in 10 black men in America. That's a huge group, and one we must know more about.

Other stories in the series will deal directly with these men. These men are not going to be ignored; their stories will be told using different tools.

I personally think it would have been a shame for us not to have done the poll because we could not capture the views of incarcerated men.

That said, you raise one of the limitations of this survey project and one we did not take for granted.


Winston-Salem, N.C.: Don't you figure that the environment and the black men boys see growing up shape their opinion on what a black man is and/or suppose to be??

Steve Holmes: Yes, we do think the environment -- including the images of other black men portrayed in popular culture -- shape the way black men see themselves.

For example, 60 percent of black men said that black men place too much emphasis on "maintaining a tough image," a higher percentage than any other group. Now, the image of tough black men is a dominant one in popular culture. So it is not surprising that black men feel they must project that image, even if they might not want to.

But let's not forget about the role of experience. Black men may also adopt the tough image because they know that, in some neighborhoods, if they don't, they will be seen as weak, and preyed upon.


Mandeville, La.: Mr. Holmes,

Why do white women grab their purses, cover themselves if they are revealing some body part and act so afraid whenever they see a black man?


I am a 43-year-old middle class black man. I have been in the Armed Forces for 20 years and have traveled all over the country and the world. I am least comfortable in America, the Southern states the most, due to its outright racist attitudes and practices, but the country overall. I am polite, courteous, and always conservatively dressed. No matter where I go, I am watched, viewed and treated as if I have just escaped from jail. There is no love in this country for black men, no matter how nice or how hard you try to fit in.

God bless us ALL.

Steve Holmes: I don't know that all white women do this, but it is true that many do. In our survey, 34 percent of black men say that "people act as if they are afraid of you." The percentage saying that was higher for younger black men.

There is little question that the images of black men both in popular culture and the news media could lead people to act fearful of young black men.

But if the question is fear of crime, the group that is most fearful of being a victim of crime is black men, themselves.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Holmes and Mr. Morin your story makes it quite clear to me that the white man has shaped the identity of the black man. The black men that you interviewed for your story are filled with self-recrimination, if not self-hatred, though they would say they don't. The white man has taught them to hate themselves. Are you surprised by these poll results? I know that I am.

Richard Morin: I was not surprised, though I was saddened. What we see in these numbers is the legacy of racism...the bitter fruit of the poisoned tree, to borrow an image from the law. How could we expect such practices NOT to shape the way many black men think in unfortunate ways?

But I also would note that most black men are not wallowing in self-pity or paralyzed by self-doubts. Too many are, agreed. But only about one in six say they've completely given up. The overwhelming majority--84 percent--are satisfied with their lives. Eight in 10 say they have a better life than their parents. Six in 10 say it's a "good time" to be a black man.

Frankly, it was these positive views in the face of continuing challenges that were the big suprise, not the negative emotions you describe.


Washington, D.C.: Was there a question that asked whether there is a connection between black women raising black men and women? I am convinced this is a contributing factor in the status of the relationship of black men and women and how they act out.


Steve Holmes: There was no question that went directly to this issue. We did ask about the issue of black men "disrespecting" black women. We found that black men thought this was a very serious problem. But, we did not go into the reasons they thought this was happening.


Annandale, Va.: Why isn't there more of a vocal outcry among black men against those members of the black community that commit crimes, and continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes? There is never a sense of responsibility; it's always society, the media, or some larger force, other than the individual.

Steve Holmes: I don't think our survey reflects the view that someone else is to blame. Indeed, one of our principle findings is that the vast majority of black men feel that black men are responsible for their difficulties, rather than the society at large.


Washington, D.C.: Why are so many black men not as helpful to other black men? I always observe black men checking out other black men in a threatening manner.

We should help instead of judge one another.

Steve Holmes: One in four black men report being the victim of crime, a higher percentage than any other group. Given the fact that most crime takes place within a race rather than between races, it follows that many of these black men have been victimized by other black men. Given that, it is not suprising that black men tend to be wary of each other.


Tampa, Fla.: Did you ask if institutional racism is perceived as a major problem confronting blacks? Also, did you ask if the problems of blacks can be solved under the existing economic order?

Steve Holmes: We asked if the economic system is "stacked against" black men, a question that gets at the issue of institutional racism. More than half of our respondents said yes. Having said that, the black men -- and black women -- in our survey also fault black men themselves for not doing better.


Tracys Landing, Md.: What does the Washington Post plan to do about changing its historic pattern of reporting mostly negative news about Black men - a pattern that has contributed to Black men's (and others') negative views about them?

Richard Morin: I think this series is something the Post is doing right now to change the pattern you describe. Just look at the photo that ran with Mike Fletcher's excellent kickoff story Friday. It featured, among others, Colin Powell, several successful businessmen, a NASA rocket scientist and his teenaged son whose smile lit up the page. And his story reflected the diversity of the black male experience, both good and bad. I think our story did the same.

And continue reading the Post--this is just the first wave of a yearlong series exploring what it means to be a black man. There are even more interesting stories yet to come.


Ft. Belvoir, Va.: I understand this study was conducted measuring black man against some standard. I would like to know what that standard is and if the survey was given to white men.

Steve Holmes: The survey was given to white men, white women and black women. This gives us a comparison of views and experiences. You can see the differences -- and similarities -- by checking out the complete survey results at


Washington, D.C.: Whenever I take my son to the playground (in Montgomery County, Md. or Washington, D.C.), black boys crowd around me and other white men vying for our attention. Frankly, this is getting tired. Where are their fathers and why aren't they at the playground too? We're talking about 9 and 10 year old kids interrupting my time at the baby playground with my toddler to tell me about some test they got a B on. If you want to write a multi-part report on what's wrong with the black man's behavior in 2006, it's all at the playground. My son is not liking it.

Steve Holmes: We tried to do a survey that gives an accurate portrait of black men, not to give opinions of what the problems facing black men are. But in the survey, we note that about two-thirds of black men a living with their children, the lowest percentage of any group. So I don't think we are sugar-coating a phenomenon that many people say contributes mightily to the difficulties that the black community faces.


Raleigh, N.C. by way of Norhtwest D.C.: My question is why do you think it is so hard for white people, especially white men, to understand that the situation of black people is a lot different from theirs and that they have contributed to it?

Steve Holmes: The fact is that two-thirds of white men and white women think that black men are doing either "very well" or "somewhat well" in this counrty. If you think a group is doing well, you don't think about how you might be contributing to their problems.


Baltimore, Md.: There was one glaring aspect of the article that I found perplexing: There was little if any mention of "class" being a possible reason for the difference in the way black men view each other or the world around them. To not mention this is to lead the reader to assume (even though the reader may know this not to be true) that all black men come from the same socioeconomic background. Do you think class plays a role in the differing views black men have of each other?

Richard Morin: Actually, we addressed the issue of class a number of times in the piece. We noted, for example, that older, more affluent black men were more likely to say that young black men don't pay enough attention to their educations.

We also compared and contrasted the differences in experiences with discrimination between upper class (college grads earning $75,000 or more) and lower class black men. We reported that in some instances, better educated, more affluent black men were MORE likely to have negative encounters. For example, 63 percent of upper class black men said they had been unfairly stopped by police, compared to 47 percent of less affluent black men. That was noted in our story.

In other ways, class did matter, but in expected ways. More affluent, better educated black men were less likely to say they have money worries and were somewhat more positive about their lives than less affluent black men, a finding that holds for whites as well. And everyone, regardless of class, said it was a good time to be a black man.

Also, this survey will feed other stories, some of which may more closely touch on the good point you raise.


Clarkston, Ga.: Did you ask about political affiliation? Is the story of the new black GOP borne out among these men?

Richard Morin: No; we found that about 7 percent of black men and 4 percent of black women identified with the Republican Party.


Richard Morin: For those who haven't read the stories and want to look at the survey as well as other elements of this project, go to:

It's all there!


Culpeper, Va.: One of my concerns as a black male is the stereotypes that have moved from just being on television to those I see in everyday life. I find myself 'angry' at those black males playing up the stereotypes and now I find that I am seen as the minority not the majority. That bothers me because I know that there are other hardworking, educated, family-oriented black males out there and our own race is making it harder. Just tired of the backhanded compliment 'not like the others'.

Steve Holmes: I found something very curious when I called people who participated in the poll to ask them follow-up questions. Almost all of the time when they started talking about black men, they talked about young black men. They didn't talk about middle-aged black men, or elderly black men, but young kids. I don't know why, but that is the dominant image when it comes to black men, just like I feel the business executive is the dominant image that comes to mind when people think of white men.

Mind you, this was mainly black people I was talking to. So as long as that image remains the overriding one, many of the steroetypes will remain in force.


Philadelphia, Pa.: I cannot see the article as I don't have the plug in online. In your survey and research, what opinion of the Iraq war and military service in general did you find? Does the black community feel that the military is a viable option or an employer of last resort?

Steve Holmes: We did not poll specifically on the Iraq war or military service. But many other polls have found that the idea of serving in the military has been losing its appeal among young black men for years, pre-dating the Iraq war. Some researchers have theorized that the reason is that as more black people become middle class, the popularity of serving in the military diminishes.


Washington, D.C.: What affect did the Million Man and Million More marches have on the lives of Black Men?

Steve Holmes: It's difficult to say. But several reseachers, and the leader of the MMMarch himself, have expressed disappointment that black men have not done more to better their communities since the march.


Little Rock, Ark.: The social phenomenon of "white flight" to the suburbs seems to have reversed in many southern cities and has lead to increased property values in urban areas. How do you think this might effect the demographics and culture of black men?

Richard Morin: An interesting question. My answer is...possibly. Increased exposure by whites to blacks and blacks to whites undoubtedly will influence attitudes be suspicious of someone you don't know. The infusion of money into some of these areas will be helpful, too.

But there is another issue: What about those who currently live in these urban neighborhoods who can't afford to live in these gentrifying locales? In Washington, D.C., many longtime predominantly black residents are being priced out of their neighborhoods. And where will working class blacks (and whites) live? That phenomenon may create new tensions and fuel new resentments.


Monroe, Mich.: Why do Blacks, such as Michael Eric Dyson, criticize Bill Cosby for what we all know to be true with regards to the declining morals and decadent culture of some Blacks? Cosby offers solutions, while Dyson offers excuses. When will we wake up and accept responsibility for our condition?

Steve Holmes: Two of the people who worked on this series are scheduled to be on Dyson's show this week. Perhaps they will address this question with him.


Springfield, Va.: I was shocked and saddened to read about the increasing suicide rate among black men. Where do you feel the negative perception black men have of themselves is mostly coming from? Also, what is the best way to address this negativity? It would be interesting to examine how (or if) this perception has changed over the years.

Steve Holmes: Popular culture no doubt plays a role, as do some of the experiences the black men undergo. But we could also look at another thing. In our survey, 59 percent of black men say they have given their child a hug, kiss or told them that they love them "at least once a day." That compares to 70 percent of white men. Maybe if we are more affectionate with our children, they would have a better sense of their value.


Washington, D.C.: I appreciate your series and look forward to following it.

However, I do believe that the root of the black man's condition in America goes back to slavery, a time when God, Religion, Name, Language and Culture was stolen from an entire race of people. As such, by design, their reality, unlike any other race of people on the planet, begins in the greatest crime of humanity, to which he was the victim.

If you believe that the Devil is the Devil regardless of place and time, then you would have to accept that the children of the open enemy of black people are that same Devil. Looking to them for a solution is not the answer.

Deception has been used to divide us and in that division lies our greatest weakness. A weakness that is purposely used to keep the "masses" deaf, dumb, and blind to the truth of who they are and who our enemy continues to be.

Steve Holmes: If, as is the case in our survey, more than half of black men feel that their problems are because of what "black men have failed to do," then I don't think they are looking to white people for the solution.


Ft. Washington, Md.: Thank you for this series of articles. My wife and my 13-year-old son and I read them over the weekend. It would be interesting to see the answers to the poll broken out to distinguish Black Men who had a father or father-figure in their life from those who have not. I contend that that is the single biggest factor at play. I strongly believe the most well intended mother can raise a boy to be an adult; however she cannot raise a boy to be a man. Being an adult is physical whereas being a man is mental.

Steve Holmes: That is a promising area of polling. We will keep it in mind.


Fairfax, Va.: Enough of the coddling. As you point out, Black Men are the most studied group in the country. However, all the studying won't amount to anything if you keep trying to explain away the predicament of Black Men. It simply boils down to a breakdown of fundamental values -- education, family and civility. Unless young Black Men are taught the importance of all three by their OWN families, they will find success elusive. Stop finding excuses, and make families responsible!

Steve Holmes: I fail to see how this survey is finding any excuses. We are pointing out how black men view themselves and their country. Most blame black men, not white people for their difficulties. Most say black men place too little emphasis on education, and too much on sports. Most say black men don't respect black women enough. Where are the excuses?


Tampa ,Fla.: Were there any questions related to how the image of black men is portrayed in the media?

Richard Morin: There were none. We were trying to move past the stereotypes and show who black men really are, not quantify how the media portrays black men. What you describe has been done, and is entirely worthy, but deserves a separate study.

I do think our poll is a worthy antidote to all the media-fueled stereotypes about black men. What came out to me from these numbers is how wrong the portrayals of black men as thugs, players or deadbeats really are.


Oxon Hill, Md.: How do Black men view their role in helping impoverished black communities? Do they go into these communities and do their part or do they think it is someone else's (the government's) problem? The government "solves" problems by jailing instead of educating.

Steve Holmes: It is a great question. We did not ask it in this survey. Perhaps in the future.


Accokeek, Md.: It is abundantly clear to me that there is much diversity between the African American male. We are each shaped by the actions we take and the choices we make.

Needless to say, there are also positive African American role models. What actions and choices did these individuals make which made them who they are today? A future survey?

Richard Morin: Great idea! Perhaps you'll help us write the questions.


Anonymous: Every time I think about the situation, I literally cry. I raised a black man as a single parent; it was not difficult, I had a lot of family support. I think the problems lie with a since of hopelessness and a defeatest attitude. I think we need more mentors. We do not care about one another like we used to do. I think some of our educated black men, should form mentoring partnerships, instead of talking about the problems, be a part of the solution.

Richard Morin: You eloquently make an important point. Thank you.


Washington, D.C.: How long is the series af articles?

Steve Holmes: There will be at least four more articles -- probably more.


Alexandria, Va.: First, I must applaud you both for taking time to write this series. I have made it my point to inform friends and associates outside this area of the series. My question is simple, as the wife of an African-American police officer, will there be interviews concerning what they see and the impact it is having on them to have to continually arrest young African American males and the dilemmas they are facing with what appears to be growing disillusionment among some African American males and the implications that this will have?

Steve Holmes: That is not a bad idea. I will pass it along to the editors here.


S. Fulton County, Ga.: As a TV news reporter in the late 80s I quit the business because I was seen as a token. I aspired to be an anchor but I couldn't get beyond the one black male per station and sometime market. In order for me to advance at that time a brother would have to quit the business or die. Today in Atlanta black men are everywhere except on the desk at 6 and 11.

Has the rise of the black male TV news reporter changed because of acceptance?

Richard Morin: I think the answer is yes. We are making progress as a society, but there is much left to do. When we look back, we should be proud of where we have come. When we look ahead, we should realize how far we have yet to go to achieve full equality.


Merritt Island, Fla.: One of the questions in the survey dealt with whether black women would marry a man with less education and who made less money. Why is it always assumed that the black woman is debating about marrying down? Black men have to deal with black women who are overweight, undereducated and have multiple children by different fathers. Please present an even playing field with your research questions.

Steve Holmes: We asked this question because research is showing that more black women are attending college and becoming successful in a business career than black men. It is a reality that many black women may have to consider "marrying down" or marrying a white man, if they are going to get married at all. Already the marriage rate, according to our survey, among black women is far lower than it is among black men.


Tampa,Fla.: Could it be that the media's influence helps to explain some of the contradictions between the interviewees' perception and reality of the extent of negativity in black commuity?

Steve Holmes: There is no question that the media plays a role. But I think it would be wrong to blame it all on the media. (See answer relating to crime.)


Fort Washington, Md.: I think this poll not only showed how black men feel about our situation, but also showed age and economic divide between the middle-upper middle class, and the working class.

Marcus T. Brown

Steve Holmes: Yes. That is true. We tried to determine how monolithic were the experiences and views of black people. One finding is interesting. More black upper class black men report experiences of discrimination than do lower income black men. We believe this is because upper income black people have more encounters with whites and therefore are more often in a position to be discriminated against.


Hyattsville, Md.: I wonder if you guys have heard a word that academics throw around a lot: "essentialism." Basically, it means making the mistake of assuming that all people in a certain category (women, men, blacks, whites, South Asians) share some innate "essence" under the surface. Then, when you see someone in that category, you automatically know how they think and feel, etc.

The word gets thrown around too much on college campuses, but it seems like an apt description of the basic error underpinning your series. Much as you wish it were so, there isn't a whole lot that connects a black male university provost, a black male hedge fund manager, a black male convict, a black male elite journalist, and an unemployed black male. It just isn't always the case that the hedge-fund manager feels a special bond with the convict, or vice versa. Do black male homosexuals -really- feel a special bond with black male homophobe preachers--a bond they don't feel with, say, Latino or white gay men? I just don't buy it. I don't believe that there is anything useful to say about "the black male" as opposed to specific black men.

Richard Morin: You raise a good challenge. I think many black men in our survey would disagree, at least in part.

Specifically, we asked if black men thought what happens to other black men has something to do with what happens in their own lives, and a clear majority said yes. So there is some shared sense of destiny. Whether this will change over time remains to be seen.

But you are right that black men are a diverse group, and growing increasingly diverse as opportunties expand.


Washington, D.C.: Steve,

We need less of these studies, and more people cutting straight to the chase. There is no "system" set up to keep black men down. That was the case in the 60s when laws were in place to keep blacks going to inferior schools. Fast forward to the year 2006, and there are no such laws out there holding anyone down. Bill Cosby is the only one out there telling it like it is. If black men took education as seriously as they take sports, their problems would be far fewer.

Steve Holmes: If you look closely at the poll, you will find that there are many black people who agee with you. But, you will also find many black men who blame both themselves and the "system" for the continuing problems their communities suffer.


Washington, D.C.: I am online with my son as we speak. He lives in Connecticut with his mother. I feel I missed some very important moments in the shaping of his early life. Some of this is evidenced in the conversations we have daily online (he is at work and so am I). I am realizing I can never ever get that back, even though I stayed in his life and saw him, supported him and his sister, as much as possible from 500 miles away. Unfortunately, I can see the damage to his basic self. This is all exacerbated by other institutional experiences he has on a daily basis. He has virtually stopped coming to see me, because he is hassled "profiled" at the airports and constantly stopped, pulled out of line etc. He is a really great 23 year old kid, and I wouldn't believe it if I didn't see it myself. America has got to live up to its creed and we have to figure how to make it do that.

Richard Morin: Thank you for your heartfelt note.


Chicago, Ill.: How much of the racism that was reported wasn't really racism? For example, if a white person doesn't look at a black person as they walk past each other, the black person may view that as racist while the white person may just be lost in his own thoughts and not even thinking about or noticing the black person.

Steve Holmes: We have no way of determining whether the experienced the person was really racism or not. But, when a person believes he is a victim of racism, it tends to be very difficult to convince hinm otherwise.


Cleveland, Ohio: Hi. I am a doctoral student at Kent State University. I was wondering if the raw survey data gathered for the Being a Black Man series would be made available to the public, or to graduate students like myself interested in the research topic. If so, when? How may I access it? Thank you for the feedback.

Richard Morin: Yes, it will be made public. For the wonks out there, an SPSS data file will be available after we finish a few more stories.


Bowie, Md.: Thank you for not producing this in February. The knee-jerk reaction is for these articles to come out during Black History Month and in some ways this just means that only black people will pay attention to it. By having this article out now it breaks from the cycle and makes people stand up and ask "why is this being raised now? What is the big deal?"

It almost makes people more concerned and interested. Thanks. It really means alot to see these articles on the front page of the Washington Post (above the fold).

Richard Morin: Thank you! The Post has made a major commitment to doing this project right. And there are many more good stories to come.


Vienna, Va.: As a black man, I feel that many black women are pressured by the media, peers etc. to carry the "I don't need a man" persona. This is not inherently negative, as it can imply self-reliance. However, I feel that many black men, whether highly-educated or not, turn to dating women of other races more readily because of this. What is your opinion?

Steve Holmes: We asked people if marriage between blacks and whites was acceptable or unacceptable. The percentage of black men and black women saying it was acceptable was roughly equal.


Harrisburg, Pa.: What are your thoughts on the apparent disconnect between the number of African American males who feel marriage is important and between the reality that the marriage rate is relatively low?

Richard Morin: We asked black men why they thought the marriage rate was so low. Here is what they said:

49 percent said a "big reason" was black men don't feel they can support a family.

42 percent said it was because black men were less likely to value marriage.

44 percent said a big reason was because black women are reluctant to mary men who have less education and lower incomes than they do.

70 percent said it was because too many young black men are in prison or have been killed.

And one more time, let me refer you to where you will find the entire survey results as well as other stories in the series.


Steve Holmes: Thanks for all your questions. Many were very thought-provoking. Keep reading.


Richard Morin: So many smart, thoughtful and amazing questions! Thank you, everyone. And please don't forget to check out for more about the series.


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