At the height of the civil rights/human rights/Black power revolts of the 60s and 70s, beyond New York and Washington, D.C., there were relatively few people of African descent from Africa, the Caribbean or Central and South America in Black communities across the country. That is no longer the case. Today one is just as likely to pick up Jerk Chicken in Chicago or Houston as in the People’s Republic of Brooklyn. The same applies for Foo Foo and other Continental African staples. There are untold millions of Africans from the Pan African world who have emigrated to these shores in the last half century to become part of what I call the new African community, a community that is no longer comprised of just “African Americans” but a huge influx of people of African descent from around the world.
This is an incredibly important development because there is potential for an unprecedented exercise of Black Power around a range of critical domestic issues that affect the Black community and to impact U.S. policy towards nations and communities in the Pan African world. For example, disparities in education, health care and employment affect people of African descent in the U.S. irrespective of their country of origin or ethnic/cultural identity. On the international front, there is general agreement that aid and trade to Africa must be substantially increased. In addition, issues like Temporary Protective Status for Haitians and policies to blunt/ameliorate the dumping of deportees back to unprepared Caribbean nations enjoy widespread support in Black communities across the country. Enhanced Black power can achieve meaningful policy change.
However, this potential cannot be fully realized unless there is a major effort to ensure that every person of African descent residing in this country is counted in the upcoming 2010 Census. While there is an understandable apprehension in the Black community about the federal government “getting in our business,” the reality is that data collected in the Census has a critical impact on the political, social and economic well being of our communities. The Census will be used to reapportion Congressional and State political jurisdictions. This is crucial to the exercise of Black political power because the composition of political jurisdictions affects the character of political representation. Equally important, the Census count and other demographic data are used to calculate the allocation of resources in vital areas like education, health, housing, jobs and economic development. If Black communities are undercounted, we will be under-resourced when it comes to allocating tax dollars. Given the critical needs in Black communities across the country, we can hardly afford to have desperately needed resources flow to other communities because of apathy or our skepticism of the government.
Because the Census is so important, the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has joined with the Praxis Project as national partners to spearhead the Fair Count Fair Share Campaign. The mission of the Campaign is straightforward: a fair/accurate count is the fundamental basis for a coordinated effort to ensure that a fair share of resources flow to Black communities. And, a fair count means obtaining accurate information about the number and needs of every ethnic/national segment of the new African Community – Continental Africans, Caribbean Americans, Afro-Latinos and African Americans – to make certain that resources are fairly distributed. In addition, the Institute for Caribbean Studies, African Federation and National Coalition for Black Civic Participation are among the numerous organizations focusing attention on the all-important goal of achieving an accurate count of Black people in the 2010 Census. These organizations are also working to place people of African descent in key positions at the local, state and national level with the Census and to direct resources to Black media outlets to educate our communities about the urgent need to respond affirmatively to the Census.
A fair count is just the first crucial step in the effort to maximize the potential/power of the new African community. We must also make certain that the emphasis on national/ethnic identification in the Census does not become a source of division in terms of the flow of resources to meet the needs of Black communities. Indeed, it is imperative that we forge Pan African relations among the ethnic/national groups within the Black community in order to maximize our collective power. The reality is that structural-institutional racism in America is oblivious to our ethnic/national/cultural differences. People of African descent are discriminated against, excluded, oppressed, left out and locked up because we are Black!
The Institute of the Black World 21st Century has launched a Pan African Unity Dialogue in the greater New York area to bridge divides and vigorously promote operational unity in the New African community. People of African descent must be united in our effort to achieve a fair count and determined to see to it that a fair count translates into a fair share of resources to build and maintain healthy, empowered communities. Post Census, this means encouraging people of African descent immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South American to become citizens, to register to vote and otherwise become engaged in maximizing the potential power of the New African community in the U.S. First things first, let’s get counted and utilize the power of our numbers to build a formidable base to advance the collective interests and aspirations of people of African descent in America, and the Pan African World!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. He is the host of Night Talk, Wednesday evenings on WBAI 99.5 FM, Pacifica New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com . He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.