today in black history

September 17, 2021

Vanessa Williams became the first Black woman to win the Miss America pageant in 1983 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

To Be Equal

POSTED: August 02, 2021, 9:00 am

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“Building a fair, representative democracy is how we achieve long-term advances on issues from employment to education, from health care to housing, and from civil rights to criminal justice. It’s how we count every vote – and make every vote count. It is how we advance equality, opportunity, and justice in areas where too many Americans are still let down, left out, and left behind. The job before us will not be easy; it never has been. But our aims are worth fighting for … Make no mistake, we have the capacity to repair our country and forge a nation that recognizes the dignity of every human being and that finally makes real the promise of America.” -- Former U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Chairman, National Democratic Redistricting Committee, 2021 State of Black America

Few events have shaped American history and our national perspective on racial inequity as profoundly as the grief, civil unrest, and economic devastation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic didn’t simply unmask the stark racial inequities in our economic, health care and criminal justice systems and institutions – revealing not one but three pandemics,

The National Urban League’s 2021 State of Black America® report, “The New Normal: Diverse, Equitable & Inclusive,” – released last week – charts a path forward as the nation emerges from these three pandemics.

The United States in 2021 finds itself at crossroads of racial reckoning. One path leads backward, toward the “old normal:” a return to the marginalization, discrimination, and segregation that left Black and Brown Americans exceptionally vulnerable to a deadly virus and economic desperation. The other path leads toward a “new normal”: a nation where police approach the communities they serve as allies and collaborators, and not hostile combatants; where every citizen has equal access to the ballot box, where fatal complications in pregnancy are just as rare for Black mothers as for as white mothers, where the value of a home is not determined by the race of its owner.

The New Normal: Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive makes the case that dismantling structural racism -- identifying and repairing the cracks in our national foundation – will result in more resilient and dynamic institutions that expand opportunity for everyone. To quote a flippant sentiment frequently shared on social media, “Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.”

Perhaps the most vivid illustration of the tension between the forces competing for the soul of America was the January 6 insurrection, when a violent mob dissatisfied with the results of the 2020 Presidential Election stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn it.

Led by white supremacists and right-wing extremists, the insurrection represented both a counterresponse to the ongoing protests against racial injustice and an almost perfect example of the injustice that inspired them.

In the months leading up to the insurrection, peaceful racial justice protesters around the nation had been met with the aggressive tactics of militarized police, clad in fatigues and armor, assaulted with tear gas and rubber bullets, buffeted by the violent winds of swooping helicopters.

The extremists who stormed the Capitol on January 6 had openly plotted the insurrection on social media, declaring their intentions to “storm the government buildings, kill cops, kill security guards, kill federal employees and agents.” Yet they were met with no troops in riot gear. no military helicopters. No tear gas was deployed as the mob shoved its way past barricades. Vastly outnumbered police stepped aside and allowed the mob to storm the Capitol.

The mob was motivated by furious resentment over historic Black and Brown voter turnout that contributed to the loss of their preferred candidate, Donald Trump. Baseless claims of fraud sought to tarnish the integrity of elections in Black and Brown communities, and lawsuit after lawsuit sought to invalidate votes in those jurisdictions. The “Big Lie” - the myth that the election was “stolen” -- succeeded largely because it blamed voters of color for stealing it. It frames the promise of a multicultural, pluralistic democracy as an act of theft from the dominant white majority.

Whether we are to achieve a “New Normal” that is truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive will depend in large measure upon our response to the “Big Lie.” A capitulation on voting rights is not only a fast track back to the “old normal,” it would further entrench the white supremacist ideology that has warped our society over centuries.

Compelling analysis from our 2021 research partners – the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, the Center for Policing Equity, and the Brookings Institution – turns some conventional wisdom on its head. Did stop-and-frisk programs not only fail to curb juvenile crime, but contribute to its increase? How does easing financial hardships affect health conditions like hypertension? Can a smartphone app lift unbanked households out of poverty and help repair their credit?

As Jordan wrote in the very first State of Black America, “It is our hope that this document will pierce the dark veil of neglect that has thus far smothered efforts to right of the past and the present. It is presented as an alternative to failed public policies. I hope that it will be read closely in the White House and in the Congress, and that it may influence decision makers to open their eyes to the plight of Black Americans.”

Visit www.StateOfBlackAmerica.org to view the full report. Our dynamic Virtual Event, which includes in-depth discussion of the issues raised by the report, can be accessed at https://soba.iamempowered.com/2021-virtual-series.


Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.


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