The State of Black Iowa

The State of Black Iowa

A number of studies and commissions add perspective to the plight of a community that has suffered in silence as the world temporarily converges on its soil.

Published January 3, 2012

Although the GOP presidential candidates have stolen much of the spotlight in the coverage of the Iowa Caucuses, the plight of African-Americans who actually live in the Hawkeye State has gone largely unreported. With the population of Black Iowans near 3%, African-Americans can easily be lost in the shuffle. 


A number of studies and commissions add perspective to the plight of a community that has suffered in silence as the world temporarily converges on its soil.   


Jonathan Narcisse, editor-in-chief at the Iowa Bystander, has seen the condition of African-Americans deteriorate since he first published studies chronicling the black population. He said, ”Things have gotten significantly worse for African-Americans here over the years, from home ownership to poverty to academic declines to health. We are in serious decline.”


How could a state with such a small Black population be the harbinger of dismal socio-economic data conditions? According to the Iowa Commission on the Status of African Americans, 2006 data shows that the per capita income is more than $13,000 for African Americans, but about $23,000 for the state. The Black poverty rate for the state is at 31% while the overall rate is 11%. And the number of out-of-wedlock births for Blacks is more than double the overall rate.


Narcisse cites a loss of Black leadership in the past 10 years as part of the blame. “A decade or so ago, we had, in larger cities like Des Moines, Black county supervisors, African-American sheriffs, Black people on the health board etc. There has been a complete evisceration of black elected offices right in front of us."


Weekly magazine The Black Commentator even gave Iowa the horrific distinction as the second worst state in the U.S  to be African-American. Chief among the state’s problems is a black incarceration rate that is more than double the national average. Narcisse says, “You have to look beyond the percentages and look at the numbers, and they show that, especially [for] African-American males in Iowa, the state is devoid of any kind of strategy to deal with the crisis and, as a result, the cost to taxpayers is staggering.”


It is doubtful that the current political climate will do anything to advance the quality of life for African-Americans in Iowa. Narcisse believes Black Iowans have been ignored by both Republicans and Democrats. He said, “I know that most of the attention is on the Republicans, but the Iowa Caucuses were a wonderful opportunity for African-American Democrats to organize to get elected to rules committees and platform committees. But unfortunately, folks didn’t understand that and so, at the last, minute African-Americans are talking about how to engage in the caucuses, but it’s too late.”


The state of African Americans in Iowa requires urgent attention, but it appears the best attempts have not been effective enough. “If you have a scratch that’s been treated with antibiotics, and it continues to get more and more infected, the supposed remedy is not working. That’s the case of African-Americans in this state. They are being ignored,” said Narcisse.


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(Photo: MARK BLINCH/Landov)

Written by Andre Showell


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