11 Black Americas

Algernon Austin presents an excellent, concise, and wonderfully read scholarly examination of the complicated landscape of race, class and popular perception. Besides the prison industrial complex, black strides in education, poverty rates, crime and other indices contradict claims that blacks are “moving backward.”
--Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Director, Institute for African American Studies, University of Connecticut and author of Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 2004 and Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (University Press of Kansas), 2007.

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There are 11 black Americas. This was one of the major findings of a study commissioned by Radio One Inc. and released earlier this year. Only summarized findings were released, so it is not possible to delve deeply into the data. The primary purpose of the study was likely for figuring out how best to market to blacks. Nonetheless it does provide an interesting look at black-American diversity.

Apparently, based demographics, values and consumption patterns, black Americans were segmented into 11 distinct groups. The following are abbreviated descriptions of the groups, from youngest to oldest group:
  1. Connected Black Teens: “They are tech savvy, highly social, brand driven and fans of Black music (Hip Hop
    and R&B).”

  2. Digital Networkers: “Over half of this web savvy, high tech, mobile segment are college or high school students who ‘network’ heavily using Facebook, MySpace, instant messaging and their cell phones.”

  3. Black Onliners: “Heavy web users, this mostly male segment is stressed by their work/life balance and the need to straddle Black and White worlds; they are focused on money as the most meaningful measure of success and are the most stressed of any segment about ‘having to fit in’.”

  4. Stretched Black Straddlers: “Mostly 18-34, this online, cell phone toting segment is the most stressed by ‘straddling’ the needs of family and work. Stressed about money and a lack of time, they are . . . the most likely to say they have been racially discriminated against in the past three months.”

  5. New Middle Class: “The best educated, most employed and wealthiest segment is mostly between the ages of 25 and 44 and is the most technologically forward segment.”

  6. Family Struggles: “Mostly female and heavy TV watchers, this segment is struggling economically and is stressed trying to raise their children on a tight budget.”

  7. Black is Better: “This confident, optimistic, fun-loving segment is very focused on family and their job. [They have a] very strong focus on Black culture, history and solidarity.”

  8. Sick and Stressed: “Mostly over the age of 35, this struggling segment is stressed about money and health, pessimistic about their personal future, and least likely to say things are getting better for them. They are the least likely to have a healthy lifestyle, to play sports or work out or have health insurance.”

  9. Faith Fulfills: “This highly religious segment, who spend more time than average volunteering for religious or non-profit organizations, is most likely to trust God to take care of things.”

  10. Broadcast Blacks: “Highly confident, independent and positive in their attitudes, this female-skewed, older segment is the most likely to say things are getting better for them. They are heavy users of TV and radio (especially Gospel radio) and have the lowest Internet usage.”

  11. Boomer Blacks: “This ‘oldest’ segment (average 52) is tech savvy with high ownership of computers, DVRs, home theater systems and wireless internet access – 90% are online. They are the most likely to believe that Black children should have Black role models and that it’s important to take advantage of the opportunities won by previous generations.”
Some of the more general questions asked of the respondents once again confirm that the punditry on blacks is “getting it wrong.” For example, 90 percent of blacks report being comfortable being black—not racked by self-loathing—as is often reported. Blacks also “don’t need to ‘act Black’” to conform to anyone’s stereotype of blackness. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed stated that education is important to success. (The 1987 General Social Survey reports similar results to this one. In the GSS, blacks had slightly higher levels of support than whites for education as a means to success.)

This survey found more optimism about the future of black America than last year’s Pew Survey. Fifty-four percent of blacks were optimistic in the Radio One survey. Only 44 percent in the Pew Survey. It is not possible to compare the Radio One survey in detail, but the difference between the two surveys is likely due to the Radio One survey including teens who tend to be more optimistic about the future. The Radio One data reminds us to be careful about generalizing about blacks.

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--Algernon Austin, Ph.D.

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