Racism’s Effects: The Urban League’s State of Black America 2009

The National Urban League’s 2009 State of Black America report is just out and shows, yet again, the longterm consequences of systemic racism as it impacts African Americans. The Urban League has developed what they term an Equality Index, a statistical measure of white-black inequalities in the economy, education, health, community engagement, and the “justice” system.

According to their press release, the 2009 summary index shows a little decline in the overall position of African Americans relative to whites, in their terms from 71.5 percent in the 2008 report to 71.1 percent in that 2009 report. The trend line over the five years between 2003 and 2007 shows greater inequality:

Even as both groups made progress in educational attainment, the progress was slower for blacks. During the same period while white children saw increases in “preprimary” enrollment of about 3 percent, black children saw a decline of about 1 percent, causing the education gap to grow, not shrink.

The executive summary of the report adds the inequality measures for subareas:

Economics remains the area with the greatest degree of inequality (from 57.6% in 2008 to 57.4% in 2009), followed by social justice (from 62.1% to 60.4%), health (from 73.3% to 74.4%), education (from 78.6% to 78.5%) and civic engagement (from 100.3% to 96.3%).

The State of Black America report ends with important suggestions for job/economic policy such as these:

1. Increase funding for proven and successful models of workforce training and job placement for under-skilled workers between the ages of 16 and 30 such as the Department of Labor’s “Responsible Reintegration of Youthful Offenders.”
2. Direct a percentage of all infrastructure monies to job training, job placement and job preparation for disadvantaged workers;
3. Target workforce investment dollars to the construction industry jobs that an infrastructure program will create and, where reigniting the construction industry is a goal, pre-apprenticeship programs must be funded in that sector;
4. Fund infrastructure development for public building construction and renovations of schools, community centers, libraries, recreation centers, parks, etc., that will rebuild and revitalize urban communities;
5. Re-establish a temporary Public Service Employment (PSE) program aimed at creating 150,000 – 200,000 jobs in urban areas to forestall a reduction in public services and an increase in job losses.

The report has not yet gotten much attention, but Leonard Pitts Jr., the black Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist and author of Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood, wrote a recent article arguing that these data will not be welcome to

Americans who convinced themselves in November the country had entered a “post-racial” era. Those Americans will be overwhelmingly white and will resist with mighty determination the report’s implicit argument: that we have not yet overcome, not yet reached the Promised Land, not yet come to a point where race is irrelevant, Barack Obama notwithstanding.

He then chides African Americans for not dealing with their own problems:

African-Americans do not, after all, need its policy suggestions to fix many of their most intractable problems. We do not need a government program to turn off the TV, realizing it’s hardly coincidental that people who watch more television per capita have poorer academic performance.

But then adds these savvy words:

Once you’ve turned off the television and encouraged black children toward academic excellence, you still must contend with the fact that their schools are too often crumbling, underfunded and staffed with inexperienced teachers. Once you’ve gotten black women and men to raise their children in the context of families, you still have to deal with the fact that those families need places to live, jobs to support them and doctors to keep them healthy….

Overall, Pitts accents some findings of psychological researcher, Richard Eibach, that

in judging racial progress, white people and black ones tend to use different yardsticks. Whites use the yardstick of how far we have come from the nation we used to be. Blacks use the yardstick of how far we have yet to go to be the nation we ought to be. . . . There is value in the yardstick white Americans use. . . . But there is value in the yardstick black Americans use, too, the measure the National Urban League provides in its annual studies. . . . We have not yet reached the Promised Land and we all have a moral responsibility toward that goal. But before we can fulfill that responsibility, we must learn to speak the same language where race is concerned, and to mean the same things when we do.

Even good critical analysts like Pitts seem to feel a great obligation to “balance” the views (yardstick) of most black Americans about their oppression and its redress—people who have been the targets of racial oppression at the hands of whites for four centuries and whose current unjust impoverishment is the cumulative result of that extensive oppression—with the typical blame-the-victim, moralistic views (yardstick) of many white Americans. Indeed, there seems to be an unwritten rule in the mainstream media, and in too much academic scholarship, that one should not name and critique whites for systemic and institutional racism too openly and honestly–and another unwritten rule that if one does critique white Americans for some racism, one must then “balance” that critique by clearly mentioning something negative about people of color or something else positive that whites have done in the racial arena. The frequent obsession with “Balance” here signals once again how whites really run this country and even control how we can publicly think and write about matters of systemic racism.

One can certainly counsel African Americans to do this or that to improve communities and conditions, but the greater moral responsibility obviously lies on those who created the 400-years of racial oppression, not those who have had to endure it now for four hundred years.


  1. Doc

    Also noteworthy to mention is that the negative examples used in the balance act to provide an argument on how black Americans are somehow responsible for the socioeconomic position they exist in within this country are the same as white Americans. Examples being the fixation on T.V., people having children before they are financially able to afford them, lack of initiative in regards to education, etc. These problems are national in their scope and yet many have structured this argument to isolate the black American population.
    The underlying premise here is that black Americans are distinctly different in their approaches towards negotiating their lifecourses than whites. Understandably, the choices, privileges, and rights available to black American’s are dramatically less in contrast to many whites due to the entrenchment of systemic racism. However, the underlying premise behind the actions of most white and black Americans is overwhelmingly the same; to exist in a world in which happiness, a sense of belonging, and personal fulfillment can be obtained through their social, economic and political milieus.
    While this premise of human nature is debatable, those who would choose to become involved in the argument would have to first erase the racialized aspects that we, as Americans, have been conditioned to apply to it.

  2. MR

    Where is the African-American Family unit? Dad doesn’t want to stay with one woman, and he certainly doesn’t want to stay and raise the children he has had with her. No child supports payments, no scheduled visitations. Little interest in the education and moral upgringing by one or both parents. Kids grow up angry, lonely and see gang life and a dangerously promiscous life as a subsitute for belonging to something that matters. There are no safe, ethical and moral guideposts and now these kids grow up and they often don’t make it to college and to successful careers. This despite millions of dollars in programs designed to help our fellow Americans. But here is the rub, you actually have to want to crawl out of the bad world and move up to light and hope. That is something society cannot do. It begins with the family. EXCEPTIONS: Despite the same beginnings described above, we see young women and young man excelling. They started out poor too. Only had one parent to raise them. How do these few so greatly excel while other wallow in their misery or worse yet become hateful and resentful to all. It is the tone and training and time spent with the children in their home. A home with love, encouragement, some disipline, and full support for the child. Maybe this could be widespread, maybe this strategy could become the norm and not the exemption. Maybe then, we will see our race lifted to it’s full potential. Oh but that takes too much work, sacrific and a solid family unit. CAN IT BE DONE? Only you can answer that.

  3. MR

    The outrage of 400 years of slavery must be put to rest. I know that is radical thought but hear me out. You could not break the phyical chains of bondage our ancestors suffered. We can break the chains in our minds that prevent us from moving forward. Carrying the Slavery Chip on our soldier day-in and day-out does nothing to lift up our race, nothing at all. In fact, it allows us to hold ourselves back! That makes no sense. Half the African American childen don’t know the full history of slavery and the evil it caused but they’re bred with hate towards other Americans who never had any connection to slave traders and plantation owners. But those Americans receive the full brunt of the hatred. And since those Americans with no connection to slavery or discrimination don’t know why they’re hated, the hatred revert backs to the source. And the hatred just grows exponentially. It swallows and consumes our young brothers and sisters to point of violence. Then when the violence leads them to jail, why now, they blame the system! This is crazy thinking, a self-fullfilling prophecy that we do to keep our selves down!

  4. Nquest

    MR the “outrage of 400 years of slavery” can’t be put to rest as long as there are people who can’t seem to free themselves of thinking in the type of stereotypes (and pure malicious fantasy) you’ve invoked throughout your posts.

    To be clear, I’m saying you speak in contorted and concocted stereotypes as a result of the legacy of slavery. This “hate towards other Americans” meme and the “we keep outselves down” self-loathing chief among them.

    And to think, you went on to reference the hatred that “consumes our young brothers and sisters to point of violence” but violence obviously isn’t directed at “those/other Americans.”

    One would think if what you say is true regarding “half of African American children” being “bred to hate” other Americans that those other Americans would be the targets/focus of their violence. But the historical and current factual record is stubborn in that regard. For not only do the vast majority of African Americans fail to show hatred towards other Americans but have done so for centuries even in the face of brutal violence and unwarranted and reciprocated hatred towards them.

    Children, for one, aren’t stupid. They can tell who and what the society there were born into values.

    Also, your interpolation is as revealing as it is debilitating to your problematic assertions. Nobody but you invoked slavery. And only you located “400 years of racial oppression” exclusively to America’s race slavery era. So there’s an obvious disconnect on your part and an obvious inability or intentional desire on your part not to deal honestly with what was presented here.

    Again, the words used above was “400 years of racial oppression” which didn’t end after Lincoln gave the Emancipation Proclamation.

    Further, the very things referenced in regards to the Urban League’s State of Black America report included “white-black inequalities in the economy, education, health, community engagement, and the “justice” system” — i.e. CURRENT EVENTS or, rather, current instances of “racial oppression.” Current events that implicate living, breathing Americans alive today.

    Beyond that, the “connection” was never broken. The white-black inequalities are a product of the past and present. But maybe you can point me to the period in American history where everything White Americans gained, created or implemented before/during the 1960’s was completely wiped out or when and where African-Americans received reparations for slavery and Jim Crow era oppression.

  5. adia

    MR–research actually shows that of nonresident fathers of all races, black fathers are *more* likely than fathers of other racial groups to provide a consistent presence in their children’s lives. See for example Lerman and Sorensen’s 2000 study “Father Involvement with Nonmarital Children,” in Marriage & Family Review. Their study shows that of nonresident fathers, black fathers are nearly twice as likely as white fathers to engage in weekly visits. So the idea that black men won’t raise their children is grounded more in misperception than in actual data. You might consider basing your arguments in research rather than popular opinions and racialized stereotypes.

  6. The solution is within each of us. The possibility or closing up the wide gap is up to each of us. To those of us who know, we must each reach one, teach one values that will accomplish the desired cultural goals. I have started by mentoring William, a seven year-old, providing him with books purchased at the thrift shop. He now has his first dictionary. You can do likewise. The 1000 mile journey begins with the first step.

    Ernie Hooks

  7. Wow, Ernie. Very idealist and sweet. Unfortunately, cultural values isn’t what got us to this point and what be what takes us from this point. Nothing’s wrong with the “cultural” values of black people. We have the same values as anybody else. Don’t get me wrong, there are things we can do – support and invest in black businesses, hire black employees, things like that – but there’s nothing “culturally” wrong that needs to be changed.


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