Report: Persistent Racial Inequality

The National Urban League released a report yesterday on “The State of Black America” (SOBA).   The report, published each year since 1976,  is designed to serve as a kind of barometer and offers an annual measure of African Americans’ conditions, experiences and opinions.   The SOBA numbers offer some evidence of progress, their ‘inequality index’ inched up; but overall the evidence confirms the persistent racial inequality of the U.S.  For example, three times as many U.S. blacks as whites live below the poverty line; and, while the racial disparity in unemployment narrowed slightly, blacks were still twice as likely to be jobless.  In an interview with Reuters news service, Marc Morial, head of the National Urban League, characterized the findings this way:

“The disparities between black and white Americans remain consistent, nagging and substantial. The next (U.S.) president has to take the bull by the horns and change the nation’s priorities and focus on domestic initiatives.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the next U.S. president, whoever that may be, will be able to galvanize the political will necessary to address these persistent racial disparities.

Refreshingly, this year’s report highlights perspectives of Black women which it rarely does.   The report is authored by Valerie Rawlston  Wilson, Senior Resident Scholar at the National Urban League, and includes essays from a dozen or so prominent African American women, including Julianne Malveaux, Johnetta Cole, and Kimberly Alton.    Unfortunately the National Urban League chose  rather totalizing language for the the title, calling it “In The Black Woman’s Voice,” instead of something more suggestive of a multivocal chorus.  Still, this is a minor quibble with a report that offers a glimpse at the toll extracted by our national system of racial inequality particularly for Black women.  Here’s a snippet from Malveaux’s essay:

“Race and gender are inextricably linked for African-American women, and their economic, social, political and educational statuses are affected simultaneously by both racial and gender oppressions.  But it should also be noted that the intersection of race and gender creates an additional ‘third burden’ for African-American women: an oppression that is a function of the majority of society’s marginalization and demonization of African-American men.

The labor market presents the most striking example of the third burden.  Black men and women both experience higher unemployment rates than the general population.  However, the unemployment and underemployment of black men shifts a disproportionate economic responsibility onto the shoulders of African-American women,  who then must support households and children without sufficient contribution from spouses, partners or fathers.   The failure of public policy to create jobs and access to employment in the wake of urban de-industrialization puts African-American men at a particular disadvantage, and thereby places the burden of family survival on African-American women.     ….

The third burden created by patriarchy and economic oppression translates into demeaning images of African-American women in popular culture.  The infamous Don Imus illustrates the extent to which these images have informed the perception of African-American women by the majority society.  Less attention-grabbing, however, are the many ways in which stereotypes of African-American women as lazy and dependent have adversely affected African-American women’s ability to find jobs and opportunities.”

Compelling reading from my perspective, and not a view that’s offered much in the prevailing zeitgeist of false dichotomies that implicitly pose an either/or relationship between race or gender as if these are not inextricably linked.    You can read an abstract of Malveaux’s essay, and order the entire report, here.