Distorted Picture of Black Progress
Once again the National Urban League has released its report on the state of Black America. Unlike in past years, the League says that blacks have much to cheer about. They are better educated, make more money, live in better neighborhoods, own more businesses, and hold more elected offices.
This is exactly the point that many conservatives delight in making. They repeatedly admonish civil rights leaders to stop playing the victim game, and instead exult at how much progress blacks have made. They point to Bush cabinet appointees, Colin Powell and Condeleezza Rice, the astounding wealth and success of celebrities such as Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, the rash of top-gun black corporate heads, and recent Census figures that show a record low black poverty rate, and record high black income. This is ironclad proof that blacks are better off than ever.
But as the league warns, this is only part of the picture. The videotape beating of 16 year-old Donovan Jackson by a white Inglewood police officer was a cold slap in the face reminder that young (and not so young) blacks can still be stopped, searched, interrogated, and harassed on the streets solely because of their color. They are abused because many cops are still convinced, despite much evidence to the contrary, that most of the crime, the drug trade, and violence in America comes with a black face.
Then there are the subtle forms of discrimination that are still pervasive. Many blacks are subjected to poor (or no) service, bad seating, long waits, special cover fees and prepayment requirements in restaurants. Even if the lousy service has nothing to do with race, since it's difficult to determine whether it is deliberate discrimination by management, inattentive waiters, or short-handed help, the experience is deeply unsettling for many blacks who suspect that the mistreatment has everything to do with race.
Many blacks still shake with rage as cabs ignore their signals then stop a few feet in front of them to pick up whites. Some cab drivers privately admit that they wont pick up blacks. They claim they fear being robbed or assaulted. But when was the last time a cab driver was assaulted by a black businessperson dressed in a suit and tie or designer dress, carrying an attaché case?
In many retail stores and residential neighborhoods black customers are often shadowed by security guards and ignored by clerks and sales personnel. Many are frequently required to produce ID's or drivers licenses to verify checks and credit cards even when they have accounts. In residential neighborhoods, black contractors, plumbers electricians, gas and telephone service employees are often watched and followed by residents and harassed by police.
In many corporations, the glass ceiling is far from shattered. The overwhelming majority of senior managers and middle level managers are white and male, and the number of black CEOs can still be counted on both hands. And many blacks receive less pay, fewer promotions and are subject to greater harassment on the job than whites. According to the Urban League report, less than one percent of CPAs are black.
Many black entrepreneurs are still forced to go through hoops to get loans and credit from banks and savings and loans to start up or keep their businesses afloat. Many real estate agents still have an arsenal of tactics to evade renting apartments or selling homes to blacks, and banks and saving loans still engage in subtle redlining that prevent prospective black home buyers from getting loans.
More black students are trapped in crumbling, dilapidated public schools with ill-prepared teachers, indifferent administrators, and outdated texts and equipment than two decades ago. Worse, many of these students are in urban public schools that are even more segregated than those schools were two decades ago.
The plague of AIDS/HIV affliction has also reached near pandemic proportions in many black communities. Blacks now make up nearly half of all new AIDS cases in America. The response from public and private agencies to this appalling health hazard has been weak, vacillating, if not simply indifferent.
Even the much-vaunted black prosperity that conservatives claim shows that discrimination is mostly a thing of the past, has been grossly uneven among blacks. Their unemployment rate is still double that of whites, and the net worth of even those considered middle-class is only a fraction of whites. And that was before the dot-coms went bust, and the current spate of economic gloom.
Blacks have certainly come a long way since the bad old days of segregation when poverty was chronic and widespread. But rhapsodizing that America is now a land of economic plenty and racial nirvana is a dangerous and self-serving delusion. The Urban Leagues report makes that very clear.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).