March 1, 2011
This week I am replacing my column with an opinion piece by Deborah Mathis that ran on BlackAmericaWeb.com. In it Mathis responds to a recent survey in which black people reported feeling more optimistic about the economy than other Americans do. Mathis believes that optimism is a strategy that black people have used to survive harsh and difficult realities. I believe that it is a tool that people with HIV/AIDS can wield as well. Over the next several weeks and intermittently this year, we will explore issues of optimism, hope, fear and denial in the HIV/AIDS epidemic among black people.
Yours in the struggle,
It's easy to grow bored with public opinion polls, so many are there to consider. But, occasionally one comes along that rivets the attention. Like a new one by the Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University that shows the people who have been among the hardest hit by the country's economic slump are the most upbeat about the economic future.
A staggering 85 percent of black poll participants expressed optimism about their financial condition, and 62 percent expect things to improve in the next year. A Black History Month moment indeed. Because, as much as anything, optimism has played a role in the achievements we honor every February. That, and the ability to move on, plow ahead and believe that tomorrow will smile on us.
I'm not sure what accounted for this originally, other than a lack of viable options. Those Africans lying in the stinking, sweaty, crammed hull of the slave ships -- the ones who did not throw themselves overboard -- what else could they have held on to but hope -- the very linchpin of optimism?
And what, other than optimism, made them run toward the treacherous frontiers of newfound freedom without so much as a pot to pee in, let alone 40 acres and a mule?
And what, but optimism, put the Freedom Riders on those buses destined for hostile territory and made the Little Rock Nine walk those high school steps and kept Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton up all night writing Supreme Court briefs and led Rosa Parks to keep her seat?
It was not optimism alone. For sure, fear and dread were in the mix too because the dangers were real and raw. It took courage and perseverance. It took determination and a yearning for justice. It took sacrifice and jeopardy, patience and work. In too many cases, it took blood.
But, not prone to suicide missions, black Americans have stared down the odds, pushed through the thickets, continued to get up, dusted themselves off and kept moving, come hell or high water, because beneath all the trepidation and above all the danger was an inextinguishable flame of faith and hope -- optimism -- that they were paving a road to better times, if not for them then at least for someone later.
Unemployment, home foreclosures, lack of health care coverage, inadequate or incomplete educational experiences and poverty have always stalked the black community more heavily and steadily than any other. Not even the advent of a black president has changed that tune.
And yet, 56 percent of black respondents said they're not stressing out over the current state of economic affairs.
The Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll found that the overwhelming majority of black respondents -- 91 percent -- said spiritual faith has helped them make it through these tough, uncertain times.
That may have been news to the pollsters. It's history to us.
Deborah Mathis is a columnist for the news Web site BlackAmericaWeb.com, where this article was originally published.