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Want To Know Something? Just Ask


Finally, today I was thinking about one of those heartbreaking lessons you must learn if you are to survive as a journalist, which is, there are many, many people who do not care what's true. No matter how many times you tell some people that President Obama is not a Muslim, or that there are actually many more white people benefiting from food stamps than blacks or Latinos, there're people who just can't wait to tell you why you're wrong because, well, they know a guy who said the opposite and they like his story better. So it's always interesting to me to see the reaction when new information emerges that contradicts what a lot of people think they know. We actually brought you two stories like that recently. One, a poll of the attitudes of African-Americans on a number of issues, the other, a study looking at poverty among LGBT folk.

On the first study, conducted by NPR, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, there were a lot of interesting findings, including that African-Americans who've been, as a group, so hard-hit by recent economic forces, remain very optimistic about their ability to attain the American dream, at least eventually. But the interpersonal stuff was what got a lot of attention. Mainly, the finding that single black men were much more likely to say they were looking for a long-term relationship than were single black women. Forty-three percent of the single men said they were, compared to 25 percent of the single women.

Now, it won't shock you to know that this was shocking to a lot of people. If you've ever watched even one black movie, then the black male "playa playa" is a staple of the genre, as well as the sharp-edged, sassy, destined to be single forever, but secretly looking for a man, black woman character. Now, is it any wonder that a lot of people just don't believe it? But I believe it. I believe it because there're many things we don't know about people, even people we see or work with or think we know, simply because we never bothered to ask them who they are or what they want. And the desire to love and be loved is a basic one. So why wouldn't black men desire it just like other human beings?

The other news came from the Williams Institute, which focuses on LGBT issues, and found that the poverty rate among gay couples, even white males who otherwise enjoy many socioeconomic advantages as a group, is higher than among straight couples. Again, a head scratcher if you've been raised on a steady diet of gay tropes about celebrity interior designers and shopping buddies. But maybe not if you think about the psychic cost of remaining hidden or thinking you have to, or not being able to access the kinds of support for your family that many straight people take for granted, like a grandma willing to babysit or a church home invested in keeping you together.

That's just a long way of saying that the more we ask people who they are, who they want to be, what they really want, the better chance we have of actually finding out. But then we have to believe them when they tell us. It's not for nothing that people like Senator Rob Portman tell us that they've changed their minds about LGBT rights because they know someone who's gay, and that personal knowledge makes a difference.

Similarly, a 2010 Pew Research poll found that 35 percent of Americans have a family member who's married to someone of a different race, which is probably both a cause and effect of the waning of many overt forms of bias. Still, this new research suggests that personal knowledge is not always knowledge, that just knowing a guy who knows a guy who thinks he knows something isn't enough. In a country this big and diverse, we need both facts and friends, and hopefully the wisdom to know the difference. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.