PUBLISHERS VIBE – DECEMBER 2018
IN RETROSPECT: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE PROGRESS WE ARE MAKING AS A BLACK COMMUNITY.
t may be true to say that we are standing in our own way, or, put another way, we are consistently sabotaging our own progress and achievements by first of all not knowing what they are, hence not understanding how far we have come and consequently, not acknowledging and affirming our growing impact and influence.
Please make a note of this unmistakable marker, whenever you see or experience the emergence or re-emergence of the hate, anger and vitriol from some “good folks” on the other side who just happen to be white – please understand that it is a reaction to your worth, your perceived progress. Use that marker as a reminder and a motivator, that you are doing something right, namely joining the middle class through education, hard work and entrepreneurship. You are making a difference which gives rise to class and racial envy and the age old white notion, that whatever gains former slaves make, its at their expense. In recent times our disruptor-in-chief has refueled that old cynical and divisive rhetoric that was responsible for the brutal destruction of black lives and property post slavery, from Thibodaux, Louisiana to Omaha, Nebraska, Chicago, Illinois and well into the 1960’s.
merica’s history is awash with the blood of Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans and poor whites who served as fodder in the contemptible and inhuman pogroms conducted by white supremacists before, during and after reconstruction. In light of this history which is still being recorded, how dare I talk about progress in the context of the Black experience and the perpetuation of racial intolerance, institutionalized racism, denial of constitutional rights and the outright assault on our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
As I researched for this article, I became acutely aware of the barriers to any reconciliation that could result in a psychological sense of equality between whites and other people of color, Black or Brown, these barriers though obvious, are rarely challenged and if they are, it’s with little conviction and gravitas. They are twofold, first, how do whites hurdle, or get over the fact that the privileges their forefathers earned through the mass murder and oppression of native Americans and their Black slaves, along with the unlawful confiscation of all their personal property, has never been reconciled? And how do Blacks and other people of color get over the “post traumatic stress syndrome” inflicted on them for hundreds of years without harboring grave insecurities and distrust. Isn’t it extremely difficult to for them to accept and acknowledge that their economic and social conditions have indeed improved?
This dichotomy indicates the challenge America faces, both whites and non-whites; their collective pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy! My mission is to offer optimism in the face of all that pessimism, with the facts. In order to do that, my team and I searched some of the most reliable sources for data on Black economic and social activity in the last 80 years and found that the Brookings Institution, a one hundred year old research entity, offered the most accurate and readable assessment of Black economic and social performance to date. Here is part of that report titled “Black Progress: “How far we’ve come and how far we have to go,” by Abigail Thernstrom & Stephan Thernstrom, excerpt: In 1940 60 percent of employed black women worked as domestic servants, today the number is down to 2.2 percent, while 60 percent hold white collar jobs. In1958 44 percent of whites said they would move if a black family became their next door neighbor: today the figure is one percent. In 1964 the year the great CIVIL RIGHTS ACT was passed, only 18 percent of whites claimed to have a friend who was black today 86 percent say they do, while 87 percent of blacks assert that they have white friends. Progress is the largely professed story of race and race relations over the past half century. And so it’s news that more than 40 percent of African-Americans now consider themselves members of the middle class. 42 percent own their own homes, a figure that rises to 75 percent if we look just at black married couples.Almost a third of the black population lives in suburbia. Because these are facts, the main stream media seldom reports, the black under-class continues to define Black America in the view of much of the public. Many assume blacks live in ghettos, often in high rise public projects with crime and the welfare checks as their main stream of income; the stereo type crosses racial lines. Blacks are even more prone than whites to exaggerate the extent to which they are trapped in inner city poverty.
In a 1919 Gallup poll, about 20 percent of all whites, but almost 50 percent of black respondents said at least three out of four were impoverished urban residents. And yet in reality, blacks who consider themselves to be middle class, outnumbered those with incomes below the poverty line by a wide margin. 80 years ago most blacks were indeed trapped in poverty although they did not reside in inner cities. When Gunnar Myrdal published An American Dilemma in 1944 most blacks lived in the south and on the land as laborers and shear croppers. (Only one in eight owned the land on which he worked.) A trivial five percent of black men nationally were engaged in non-manual, white -collar work of any kind; the vast majority held ill-paid, insecure, manual jobs – jobs that few whites would take. Following the outbreak of world war ll, manufacturing plants in the north needed workers, and so began the great migration of Southern blacks to the North. Wage growth for the black family was dramatic and through much of the 1950’s wages continued to rise steadily and unemployment was low.”
Please educate yourselves about how far we have come and how far we have to go. But I am proud to recognize along with so many other black and brown people from the Caribbean, that blacks have made progress and continue to do so. Please search the brookings.edu website for more information as my column is much too short to detail the full report.