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The State of Black America

Updated on February 22, 2014

Black America Has Come a Long Way but Not There Yet

Many black Americans have climbed to the pinnacle of success, but black America, by and large, is still behind in almost every area of life. “Black America boasts of almost 45,000 physicians and surgeons, 89,000 post-secondary teachers, nearly 50,000 lawyers, and more than 52,000 chief executives,” according a study by the Center for HIV Law and Policy entitled Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global Aids Epidemic. “Yet although Blacks in the U.S. reside in the most economically powerful country on Earth, they do not benefit from the fruits of American affluence.” Although this study was done in 2008, this statement is still relevant in 2013.

Doubtless, black Americans have made tremendous progress since coming to this then newly-discovered land as slaves or as indentured servants in 1619. But black America, as a whole, still has a long way to go to achieve equality—but hopefully not another 395 years.

Black America’s Progress

Certainly, black America’s incremental progress has been too slow. From Slavery to the Emancipation Proclamation took about 242 years (1619-1863). During that period, blacks were primarily considered property. Colonies, later, passed laws that made it illegal to teach blacks to read or to employ them for writing jobs. South Carolina led the way. According to Erick Bruun and Jay Crosby in their book, The American Experience, the colony, in 1740, passed a law that reads: “Be it, therefore, enacted… that all and every person and persons whosoever, who shall hereafter teach, or cause any slave or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person and persons, shall for every such offence forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds current money.” In 1871, in Dred Scott vs. Sanford, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing the majority opinion, said Scott had “no right under the Constitution to sue,” and that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” In 1863, President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation; and in 1868, Congress passed the 14the Amendment, mandating “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.” These actions brought black Americans from being property to being citizens of the United States, with “rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

From the Emancipation Proclamation to Brown vs. Board of Education took another 91 years (1863-1954). During this period, Plessy vs. Ferguson, decided in 1896, made racially segregated school “separate but equal.” The Court acknowledged the 14th Amendment but made a distention between social equality and political equality. Justice Henry Brown wrote: “The object of the fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or comingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” The Plessy decision, also, set the precedent for “separate but equal” facilities in general, including restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and even water fountains. In 1954, the table, however, was turned. Brown vs. Board of Education unanimously held “racial segregated schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Therefore, blacks who had two-room schools, coal-burning and wood-burning heaters, poorly-trained teachers, and no school buses moved up with whites who already had large schools with steam-heated buildings, well-trained teachers, and yellow school buses.

From Brown vs. Board of Education to the 1964 Civil Rights era took another 10 years (1954-1964). During that period, whites resisted the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down segregation, but the civil rights movement made a difference. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the movement spread to Alabama other states, demanding equal rights under the law. In1964, President Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act. Since 1964, blacks have been moving slowly but surely toward equality in nearly all categories of life.

In politics: In 2008, America elected Barack Obama as its first black president. President Obama Nominated and congress confirmed Eric Holder as the first black United States Attorney General. Mel Watt is the Director of the Federal Housing Financial Agency, and Jeh C, Johnson is Secretary of Homeland Security. Waiting in the wings is Debo Adegiblie nominated for Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

In communication: Television networks have employed talented black program hosts and news anchors. MSNBC, for example, hired several talented hosts and anchors: Tamron Hall is a National Correspondent for NBC News and NBC’s Today show, as wells as anchor for MSNBC and host of News Nation. Al Sharpton is host of Politics Nation. Joy Reid is the new host of the Reid Report. Mellissa Harris-Perry, Craig Melvin, and Toure Neblett are also hosts and anchors.

In entertainment: Black stars are soaring in Hollywood. In the March edition of Essence magazine, in an article titled “2014 Hollywood Hot List,” Reginia R. Robertson and Britni Danielle listed 75 females who are making major movies in cinema and television. Among them are Vanessa Morrison, who made Hollywood history when she became the first black-woman president of Fox Animation, and Nichole Beharie, who played Rachael Robinson in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and has the “joined prime-time television lineup with Fox’s top-rated Sleepy Hollow.” Performing in her fist-time role as Patsy in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong’o has critics and awards’ committees singing her praises. In the March issue of Ebony magazine, Kelly L. Carter and Jorian L. Seay, in an article titled Hollywood’s Young Titans, compiled what they called “Our annual list of new-school talent, age 35-and-under, primed and ready to conquer the entertainment world.” The list includes 10-year old Quvenzhane Wallis, who, in 2013, became the youngest actress ever to be nominated for the best actress Academy Award. It, also, includes 15-year old China Ann McClain—already a Hollywood veteran—who played Idris Elba’s daughter in Daddy’s Little Girls, and who has roles on Tyler’s Perry’s House of Payne and the Disney Channel’s A.N.T. Farm.

In sports: Black Americans are still rising. In 2010, 67 percent of all players in the National Football League were black, and 31 percent were white, according to the Journal of sports columnist, Bob Wolfley. The prevailing view for decades was that blacks did not possess the “ability and intellect” to be quarterbacks, “but 2012 saw nine starting quarterbacks,” according to the Huffington Post. Besides that, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks won the 2014 Super Bowl.

Black America Still Lags Behind

Despite phenomenal achievements, black America still lags behind white America in almost every area of life.

Poverty: In 1990, 29.3 percent of black families were below the poverty line compared to 8.1 percent of white families, according to U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce. In 2012, 23.7 percent of black families lived below the poverty line compared to 9.7 percent white families.

Unemployment: In 2012, the unemployment rate for blacks was 11.6 percent compared to 5.7 percent for whites. “A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute…notes that this gap hasn’t closed at all since 1993,” Brad Plumer, of the Washington Post, said. “Back then, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks.

Prison: Great disparity between blacks and whites still exists in the prison population. “Black men are more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails in 2010, according the Pew Research Center.

Education: Disparity exists in education. Although blacks earning degrees are increasing, while whites earning degrees are decreasing, black America still lags behind whites. For the academic years, 1999-2000 and 2009-2010, whites earned 73.7 percent of Associate degrees in 1999-2000 and 66.3 percent in 2009-2010 while blacks earned 10.9 percent in 1999-2000 and 13.7 percent in 2009-2010, according to U.S. Department of Education. Whites earned 77.5 percent of bachelor’s degrees in 1999-2000 and 72.9 percent in 2009-2010 while blacks earned 9.0 percent in 1999-2000 and 10.3 percent in 2009-2010. In terms of Master’s degrees, whites earned 79.8 percent in 1999-2000 and 72.8 percent in 2009-2010 while black earned 9.0 in 1999-2000 and 21.5 in 2009-2010. Whites earned 77.9 percent of Doctor’s degrees in 1999-2000 and 74.3 percent in 2009-2010 while blacks earned 6.6 percent in 1999-2000 and 7.4 percent in 2009-2010. Blacks, also, score lower on college entrance exams, according to American College Testing and the College testing agency.

Life expectancy: Disparities exist in life expectancy. Blacks’ life expectancy is 74.6 years and whites’ 76.4 years, according to the Kiser Family Foundation.

Why Black America Is Left Behind

Why black America is still lagging behind white America is debatable. Some say blacks are inferior to whites. This idea is reflected in what John Sununu said about President Obama. Responding to a question on Fox News about Obama’s debate with Romney, he responded: When you are not that bright, you can’t get better.”

Sociologists have a different take. Sociologists Marta Tienda, William James Wilson, and S. Lieberson agree “the problem of lagging mobility is a complex one.” William Kornblum in his book, Sociology in a Changing World, 5th ed, gave four significant—yet debatable—declarations: 1. “Social mobility is more available to blacks today,” but “the majority of black workers are still dependent on manual work in industry or lower-level service jobs” that are decreasing. 2. “Blacks were employed in “public sector jobs that have been drastically reduced,” as well as “lower earnings resulting from budget cuts” 3. “Chronic unemployment is associated with family breakup, alcohol and drug addiction, and depression” and that the “social problems, in turn, severely hamper the ability of individuals to learn the attitudes and skills they need for entry into available jobs.” 4. Blacks are “not free from continuing consequences of racism and prejudice.”

Although debatable, these declarations are worth considering, for there may be more truth than many want to admit.

It is clear that blacks are excelling in the 21st century, but the black race, as a whole, is still lagging behind the white race. Another thing that seems clear is that all the areas in which blacks are left behind may be attributed to social and economic inequality and racial prejudice. Finally, it is apparent that black America will reach “the promised land” of equality because every generation rises higher than the previous generation—undoubtedly because of better family models and greater opportunity.


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    • profile image

      big daddy oreo 

      4 years ago

      Black skin would make me look like a tough sumbitch

    • profile image

      big daddy oreo 

      4 years ago

      Black skin would make me look like a tough sumbitch

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Amazing article! With these numbers how do we explain to Tea Party Conservatives their conception the poor are "lazy" is a misconception? How do we challenge the stereotypical paradigm that a person who is poor shouldn't be wearing designer clothes, or should be delivering papers or whatever to accumulate wealth?

    • Lawrence L Beale profile imageAUTHOR

      Lawrence L Beale 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for your comment.

    • profile image

      Uvonne Blount 

      4 years ago

      I really enjoyed this article we need to have this taught everyday in our schools . We really need a class on black history so our kids will know all that was started and designed by black people.


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