Some sobering notes on African American equality

The fact that institutionalized racism persist in our country is rooted in the historical reality of 250 years of slavery followed, after a brief period of civil war and democratic reconstruction, by over seventy years of Jim Crow terror and state sanctioned racist discrimination. Claude Lightfoot was right when he said that present day racist practices and attitudes carry the stench of the slave market. Ever since the great powers of Europe turned African into a commercial warren for hunting and enslaving Black people racism has been an instrument of capitalist exploitation for super profits. Racism began as crimes against humanity by perpetrating one of the worst holocausts in the annals of human history and its practices today still have a fundamental, genocidal character.

Examples are legion: Take the racist practices of the criminal justice system. I would argue that the phenomenal growth of the African American prison population was a direct consequence of the era of repression initiated by the FBI-CIA (COINTELPRO) against the movement for Black Liberation. Not only were activists who allegedly took up armed struggle, such as Geronimo Prat falsely imprisoned based on fake evidence but also civil rights activists like Maggie Bozeman of Alabama (a senior citizen African American charged with voter fraud in the late seventies), and Mayor Eddie Carthan (first African American elected Mayor was accused of murder) of Tchula, Mississippi were arrested, jailed and imprisoned. There came out of this period a whole series of draconic laws (the Rockefeller drug laws and the federal RICCO statues) that automatically led to a dramatic increase of the African American prison population. There have been successful campaigns to repeal some of these draconian laws and to free the victims.

There also developed out of this era a different mechanics of oppression wherein the local police, the mob and the FBI worked diligently dumping debilitating drugs into the African American community; later on street gangs like the Black Stone Rangers, Crips and Bloods became a part of this drug trafficking which went hand and glove with the escalation of fratricidal violence. Also it went hand and glove with increasing the African American prison population. So the gang violence which has turned some of our communities into war zones is not only a moral issue; it’s the bitter harvest of an era of brutal repression started by J. Edgar Hoover that was taken up by Ronald Reagan and the ultra right and transformed into public policy. Parole was abolished from the federal system and severely limited in most states. Prisons were privatized. Whites and non-African Americans make up about 87 percent of the general population but are only 26 percent of the prison population. The criminal justice system practices racism more viciously and openly than any other institution in our country. We must demand an end to these injustices and the freedom of its victims. There are thousands of African American and other minority prisoners who should be given amnesty based on the unjust sentences they were given. Political prisoners like Mumia and Leonard Peltier should be released forthwith given the years of unjust imprisoned they have suffered already.

Other examples are in health care. The AIDS epidemic and the epidemic of drug addiction combined has destroyed and continues to kill hundreds of thousands annually. The Urban League and CBC are forever pressing Congress to do something about these problems. What can we do to bring greater attention to this problem and press for a solution. This is a problem that begs for government intervention on the side of the victims.

Then there is the continued growth of poverty among African American and they continued to endure a ghetto like existence even in this first decade of the twenty-first century.

The Urban League’s 33rd edition of The State of Black America features The Equality Index replete with essays and commentaries by leading scholars and ordinary citizens makes more than 30 recommendations to President Obama.

Even with an African American President in the White House The Equality Index for 2009 presents disturbing statistics showing that African Americans “remain twice as likely” to be unemployed as whites and three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as many are likely to be jailed or imprisoned.

JOBS: The unemployment rate for African Americans is 16.5 percent compared to the national unemployment rate of 9.7 percent. This is higher than any annual rate in 27 years. We need a strong jobs bill. The Recovery and Reinvestment Act is basically investments in the infrastructure, transportation and “green” rebuilding retrofits. There are also pass-through funds that help states maintain some jobs in education and other important programs. We are not opposed to these initiatives but we need to get ground-up recovery. The economic stimulus and the jobs bill recently passed by Congress doesn’t do enough to target unemployment in poor and African American communities.

INCOME: African American household income has dropped from 64.8 percent to 61.8 percent in the last decade. The Urban League began tracking economic and racial inequality annually in 1974; then African American families made 58 percent as much as white families, a median of $7,808 compared with $13,356. Thirty four years later (2008) African American families made 62 percent as much as white families, $34,218 compared with $55,530. Marc Morial, President of The Urban League, explained that the position of African American working class families is like the caboose of a train. No matter how fast or slow the train goes the caboose remains the last car of the train.

HOUSING: In 2006 the American dream of home ownership was seemingly being realized by more working class people than any other time in modern U.S. history. Just two years later the group United for a Fair Economy issued a report called “Foreclosures: State of the Dream 2008”. This report predicted that due to the subprime mortgage crisis $213 billion would be lost to people of color. For African Americans the “lost of wealth” would be between $72 billion and $93 billion. This is the greatest swindle ever perpetrated against the working class. Presently the rate of African American home ownership is down 2.6 percent from its peak in 2006. In the last quarter of 2009 the African American home ownership rate fell 46 percent. The Urban League proposes passing a homebuyers’ bill of rights that would protect and educate consumers and provide home-buying help. Of course an immediate issue is to stop the foreclosures now underway and provide relief for the victims of foreclosures due to the subprime mortgage crisis. We must build a politically focused movement that can help the Obama administration and Congress stand up to the financial barons, banks and lobbyists in order to pass laws that will bring an end to the foreclosure crisis.

The stats in the categories of jobs, housing and income demonstrate the economic consequences of discriminatory practices motivated by the greed of the capitalist bosses. For Black workers racism means being underpaid in the face of inflated living costs and for white workers if means a continuous deterioration of living standards.

Now is the time to call for a united struggle of white and minority workers to fight for affirmative action because in the last 30 years the ultra right Republicans have been able to reverse or stay the hand of affirmative action.

(Photo by Old Sarge, courtesy Flickr, cc by 2.0)


Frank Chapman
Frank Chapman

Frank Chapman is a field organizer for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. He is active in organizing for an all-elected Civilian Police Accountability Council in Chicago.