New York Urban League Reports on Racism in NYC

The New York Urban League has released a report detailing the effects of racism in New York City. The report, called “The State of Black New York City 2007,” provides a detailed analysis of the persistent disparities in black New Yorkers’ access to the job market, affordable housing, health care and schools. The Urban League has published similar reports off and on for 40 years. What’s unique about this report, according to City Limits, is that it presents a broad picture of the multifaceted disadvantages blacks face—and connects those indicators to a critique of what the report calls America’s “race-constructed society.” Explaining the study’s purpose at the launch last week, New York Urban League chairman Noel Hankin said:

“to monitor, measure and track the effects of racism is very important.”

No disagreement here with Mr. Hankin. The kinds of disparities the study describes are not surprising to those who’ve been reading, writing, and living with the effects of racism in urban environments. The 193-page report documents:

“the urgent institutional pressures, in health care and housing, in business, prisons and schools, that continue to oppress Black people and Black communities. In spite of the tremendous accomplishments and impressive strides made by individual African-Americans since the Civil Rights Movement, the systems of the United States continue to produce outcomes drastically biased against people of color. Whether in the education system, where Black and Latino children suffer in over-regimented and under-funded schools, or in the criminal justice system with its profiling, police brutality and sentencing disparities, the results are as predictable in Arkansas as in New York. Despite the Supreme Court Brown v. Topeka decision 54 years ago, we remain an apartheid nation in which white wealth is eleven times the wealth of Black people. These institutional disparities devastate Black communities. The systemic ‘cradle to prison pipeline’ chokes the Black community’s efforts to achieve equity. If we are to challenge this structural arrangement, we must, as a city and as a nation, first examine its roots in the historical and structural racism of this country.” (p.7)

It’s refreshing to see an analysis of racial disparities lead in this direction (“historical and structural racism”) rather than in the eddy of structural causes separated from racism. For the past several years, I’ve worked on a large research project at Rikers Island (NYC’s largest jail) and the communities most effected by mass incarceration, so I was especially interested to read what the New York Urban League’s report had to say about criminal justice. The statistics are the usual grim litany that reflect the “Gulag economy” I mentioned the other day:

“Over the past twenty-five years, the unique social phenomena of mass incarceration coupled with mass unemployment has disrupted and severely damaged the very heart of the Black community in New York State, indeed throughout the United States. … In New York State, by 2006, 50.4% of the state prison population was Black (28.4% Latino) and over 91% of the New York City jail population was Black or Latino, while Blacks accounts for only 15.9% of the state’s general population. … Approximately 75% of them [25,000 people annually returning from prison] will return to a few select neighborhoods in New York City. About 40% of them will return to Brooklyn alone.” (p.6)

Later in the report (p.9), the authors go on to cite the Correctional Association of New York research that points out the fact that a majority of those who use and sell drugs are white, yet 91% of the drug offenders in New York State prisons are Black and Latino. This seems to be strong evidence of systemic, institutionalized racism, that is, a system that ensures racially disparate outcomes almost entirely apart from individual knowledge, motivation, and behavior.

Yet, in the face of these enduring and depressing statistics, the report sounds a hopeful, politically progressive note:

The Black liberation movement had always understood and been under-girded by the following premise: Collective redress of grievances, organized and accountable to a grassroots Black constituency, and rooted in the historical memory of liberation struggles across the globe, brought down Jim Crow. It was this collective organizing strategy that fueled THE DREAM. In this political environment, systems change when there is a collective outcry demanding that change. Systems change or alter their course when they must — when they have no choice. Organizing in the future may be different than it was in the past. Maybe mass street action will be not be the primary strategy to challenge the inequities of our race-constructed society. But collective action is essential whether on the street or through the internet.” (p.10)

An interesting place to end up, I think. Collective action, redress of grievances, either through mass street action or the internet ~ or some combination of both I imagine.

Leave a Reply