By Marc Morial, President Nat. Urban League —
Each year the National Urban League issues a State of Black America® with specific indicators on the progress or lack thereof for African Americans in comparison to White Americans. Beyond righteous passion and sentiment on the wealth gap and other disparities afflicting African Americans, the Urban League has adopted an Equality Index as a data and evidence based approach to documenting the status of Black people in critical areas like income, employment, health, education, housing, environment and criminal justice. African Americans have undeniably achieved progress since the civil rights era, however, State of Black America reports continue to reveal that in relative and absolute terms, Blacks consistently lag behind our White counterparts in attaining full equality in our country.
As the 2020 report Unmasked clearly indicates, nothing more the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed this deeply troubling reality in our country. The disproportionate and deadly disparities in infection rates and deaths afflicting Black and Brown communities coupled with the disastrous lack of access to health care should be a wake-up call that there is something terribly wrong in the socio-economic systems of our society.
It is time to call it out: racism is the pandemic within the pandemic. As the 2020 report states, “Millions of Americans have taken part in demonstrations for racial justice, making Black Lives Matter the largest protest movement in U.S. history…The American people are seeing—many for the first time—the stark and deadly results of racism on an enormous scale.”
In 1963, at another moment of crisis and inflection in this country, some 250,000 people marched on Washington to demand, jobs, and freedom. Impatient with the pace of progress, in the aftermath of the March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote the book Why We Can’t Wait in which he said, “It is because the Negro knows that no person—as well as no nation—can truly exist half slave and half free that he has embroiders upon his banners the significant word NOW.” It is interesting to note that in his book Dr. King calls for compensation for the centuries of free labor extracted from African Americans during enslavement – reparations.
Fifty-seven years later, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the visionary lead Sponsor on HR-40, the Congressional bill that will establish a Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African Americans, has adopted King’s book as the basis for an urgent call to action for America to finally reckon with the crime and sin of enslavement by embracing reparations.
In this moment of crises, over and over again we hear the voices of African Americans, who are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of police violence and killing of Black people, echoing the heartfelt feelings of the great Freedom Fighter Fannie Lou Hamer. We’re “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” As President of one of America’s oldest civil rights organizations, I share this sentiment. African Americans are sick and tired of waiting for the wealth gap, other inequalities and disparities cited in State of Black America reports to be erased.
How long must we wait? More than 100 years after General Sherman’s Field Order #15 promised 40 acres and a mule to the “emancipated” slaves, African Americans are still waiting to be healed and made whole. While reparations for African Americans was rejected, it is a cruel irony that some former slave masters received compensation, reparations, from the Federal government for the loss of their “property.” Survivors of the Jewish holocaust in Nazi Germany have received reparations; Native American nations in Canada, whose land was seized, have been awarded reparations; and the U.S. government correctly addressed the shame of interning Japanese citizens in prison camps during World War II by paying reparations. African Americans are still waiting.
While the National Urban League will continue to advocate for targeted policies to ameliorate the current conditions and circumstances of marginalized Black communities, I am convinced that the scale of inequalities and disparities hampering the overall progress of African Americans is so vast that they cannot be overcome by ordinary public policy. The solution must be targeted, bold and big, and it must address and overcome the reality of structural and institutional racism is our nation.
Therefore, in memory of our ancestors, whose free labor helped to build this nation, it is my sacred duty to join with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, the National African American Reparations Commission and allied organizations and leaders in seizing this unique moment, when millions are marching in the streets proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” to reaffirm the National Urban League’s Support for HR-40. In the spirit of Dr. King’s Why We Can’t Wait, I call on Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to act “NOW” to pass HR-40 in the House of Representatives. If not now, when?
Source: National Urban League