As the Urban League celebrates its 100th Anniversary, society examines just how far Black America has come. It's true, much ground has been covered on the road to freedom, but let's examine the journey ahead
An African American has ascended to the highest rank of Western civilization and yet, people of color still remain one of the most victimized and exploited populations in the world. We sit as judges on the Supreme Court, are UN ambassadors, presidents of government agencies, and board members of Fortune 500 companies and yet over 25% of the black population live below the poverty level. We have traveled far... but not far enough. In the midst of attempting to analyze our progress, too many of us question whether the existence of organizations like the Urban League, NAACP and Rainbow Coalition are still necessary. A few facts come to mind before an educated response can be determined:
· One fifth of the black population does not possess enough liquid resources to survive three months without a job.
· In 2006, the median income for Blacks was $38,269 compared to $61,280 for whites
In nearly half of low income households, after housing costs are paid, families have $257 a month left for food, $29 for clothing, and $9 for health care.
· In the 21st century, middle income African American families work the equivalent of 12 full-time weeks more than white families to maintain the same income level.
· A black family making $100,000 annually is more likely to live in an impoverished neighborhood than a white family with an income of $20,000.
As long as we live in a nation that enables the top 10% to accumulate 68% of the wealth while people of color are more likely to have negative net wealth, we will need the Urban League. Perhaps too often when comparing how far we have come, we neglect to remember how dismal the current state remains.
Indeed, a century later, we are still disproportionately affected by structural racism, and the recent Pigford settlement against the USDA is evidence of just one government agency with gross discrimination practices that contributed to the loss of black wealth. One need look no further than the current state of the economy for the largest indicator of inequality. The unemployment rate for Blacks is already hovering above 15% compared to 9% for whites. The foreclosure crisis that nearly bankrupted Black America is another example of institutional racism that needs its own article. The documented predatory practices independent of class condemned even middle class blacks to sub-prime loans and drained an estimated $200 billion from the black community.
“The Constitution assured the right to vote, but there is no such assurance of the right of adequate housing, or the right to an adequate income. And yet in a nation which has a gross national product of 750 billion dollars a year, it is morally right to insist that every person has a decent house, and adequate education and enough money to provide basic necessities for ones family.” -Martin Luther King, Jr, 1966 Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom
The KKK may not be a sanctioned organization picketing in the streets and terrorizing communities, but racism is still very alive and as equally lethal. The ineffective policies of a government that erodes assets and restricts access to economic stability, keeps entire communities in despair. Stagnant wages and continual job loss leaves African Americans vulnerable to financial hardship. Ones income level determines their access to a quality education in a safe neighborhood-- a luxury deprived of too many of us. Barriers to economic equality are the new century shackles, enslaving too many people of color to a perpetual cycle of poverty. Too many times, a college education does not always make dollars or sense for anyone trying to escape economic despair. Too many African Americans will never earn enough money to save for a down-payment on a home, or to open a business of our own. Too many middle class African Americans are but a paycheck away from poverty. Too many African Americans will not be able to afford retirement, and depend on Social Security as their sole means for income. Too many African Americans will not be able to afford health insurance and be disproportionately affected by chronic illnesses like diabetes, HIV and cancer. These diseases and injustices will claim too many of our lives.
In a capitalist society, entirely too few African Americans have access to capital when it is only capital that defines true freedom. We will need the Urban League for the next 100 years or however long it takes until we are, indeed, free at last.