A lot of subtle scapegoating has surfaced in this post-election season. One little emerging piece of fiction would use the terms "black" and "poor" interchangeably.
The reasoning behind this kind of thinking seems to go like this: Ronald Reagan's victory has succeeded in painting the Democrats as losers, as the party of the poor, the elderly and the oppressed. Blacks voted overwhelmingly for Mondale, therefore blacks are losers, needy and poor.
The fallacy in this reasoning is obvious and I have a different thesis. Blacks did not vote for Mondale because they are poor. In fact, only 36 percent of blacks live below the poverty level, the rest earn incomes above those levels. So personal income was not the prime impetus in black voting.
Contrary to those who would paint all voters as casting their ballots solely out of self-interest, blacks did not vote their pocketbooks. If they had, nearly two-thirds might have supported President Reagan. They chose instead (at a rate over 90 percent) to vote with their convictions and their hearts.
I believe that a group, or an individual, shows a higher level of social consciousness and comes closest to what the founding fathers had in mind when they place their convictions above their incomes. In voting for Walter Mondale, projected by the polls as the certain loser, blacks became the metaphor for that America.
When the white middle class saw the growing cleavage between the haves and have-nots, they turned their backs. When the black middle class saw this growing split, they turned to face the problem.
So, instead of unfairly branding blacks as losers, perhaps the question that should be asked is what did they know or see on election day that the rest of the country did not see. Of course, as in the proverbial saying, only time will tell.
To a group of Americans fully enfranchised only within the last 30 years, it is particularly inappropriate to add the extra burden of stereotyping them as poor and losers, especially in the current and volatile atmosphere.
Already, there is misplaced apprehension about the future as some Democrats counsel party leaders to move away from blacks to regain white voters. Meanwhile, blacks are questioning the failure, thus far, of the coalition they envisioned. Indeed, some black leaders have already called a meeting later this month to assess election results and develop priorities. While these events are unfolding, the current administration's response to blacks remains uncertain.
In many ways, blacks must bear some of the blame that the label "poor" can so easily be heaped upon them. In nonelection years, both blacks and liberal whites have stressed the problem of black poverty. They have forced blacks to wear this label in nonelection years as well.
While their goals were to gain more government funding for entitlement programs that also help blacks, they unwittingly gave ammunition to the conservative ranks. Reagan has vigorously advanced the notion that the post-1965 social programs were not effective in reducing poverty. This is not true. Although the poverty level has risen in the last four years, statistical data reveal that a much smaller percentage of Americans live below the poverty level today than 20 years ago.
Certainly an expanded black middle class is proof that much good emanated from the Great Society programs of the 1960s.
Precisely because the terms "black" and "poor" are not interchangeable, the number of blacks voting for a candidate who represents decency, fairness and compassion deserves praise, not castigation.
Perhaps Shakespeare, who had Iago in "Othello" say, "Put money in thy purse," might have added, had he been privy to this last election, "and keep your convictions in your heart."