On the basketball court, where the rules are known, the goals are the same height at both ends, and the playing field is level, African-Americans once again showed play “above the rim.” Tim Duncan led the San Antonio Spurs to the championship, for the fourth time in nine years. Only 22 years old, LeBron James carried his team past the Detroit Pistons. And Tony Parker walked away with the MVP trophy for the finals.
Once again, an African American ballplayer finishes No. 1.
Unfortunately, though, that’s not the only No. 1 ranking we have to think about. As Dr. Ron Walters of the University of Maryland recently reminded me, in a list he sent me headed “No. 1 Statistics of the Black Condition,” African-Americans have some other No. 1’s we should deal with: - No. 1 in the poverty rate - No. 1 in the rate of incarceration - No. 1 in victims of homicide - No. 1 in victims of hate crimes - No. 1 in mortgage-denial rates - No. 1 in obesity and diabetes rates - No. 1 in teachers in neighborhood classrooms with less than three years experience - No. 1 in receiving the death sentence - No. 1 in the unemployment line - No. 1 in suspensions and expulsion; - No. 2 in percentage of Americans who do not have health care
According to the Schott Report, seven of 10 Black youth are dropping out of high school in major cities like Chicago, New York and Miami.
There are about 20 Democrats and Republicans actively running for President in 2008, with a couple more in the wings—yet urban policy has been a “no-show” at the debates. For shame.
With jobs and capital flowing out, guns and drugs flowing in, dropout rates going up, hope dropping, we have a crisis situation in Black America, especially among young Black males. This is not a new crisis, since the Kerner Report identified “two Americas, separate but unequal” almost four decades ago—but it is shameful that it remains an unsolved crisis.
And moving into some realm way beyond shameful, Katrina remains an open wound on the body politic of America.
The Republican candidates wallow in the Whitewashed myth of Ronald Reagan, whom African Americans remember as the man who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, backed South African apartheid till the bitter end, and opened his general election campaign against Jimmy Carter in 1980 by visiting the Neshoba County fair to talk about states’ rights.
That’s the same county in Mississippi where Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were murdered during Freedom Summer. Reagan’s symbolism was raw and ugly, and as clear as bigotry can be. Now he’s the mythological mentor for a dozen GOP wannabes. They’ve abandoned George W. Bush, concluding that his Custer-like determination to “stay the course” in Iraq will leave massive Bush and Cheney millstones around their necks. They want to go back to Reagan instead—but not the real Reagan, the sanitized, Whitewashed version.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, where is the candidate with an urban policy? John Edwards launched his campaign in New Orleans in an attempt to make poverty a serious subject for the campaign, but the media wants to talk about his haircuts more than his poverty plans. When Dennis Kucinich brought up fair trade in the last debate, the media moderators quickly changed the subject. And notice the lack of serious response when Barack Obama brought up the “quiet riots” in our cities.
Where is the prison reform agenda? Who is brave enough to take on the prison-industrial complex, which spends more per inmate than is spent per public school student? Who will challenge our failed, wasteful and unfair drug policies, which have led to so many young African-Americans in jail? Who will restore the right to vote of felons, to help them become full citizens again, and register our high school seniors as they graduate? Who will call for full employment, for summer jobs for our youth, and public service jobs for those not-so-youthful? Who will challenge assault weapons and the arms trade? Who will treat Africa like a partner, at long last?
Who has the vision to set a public policy agenda for an America that is becoming more diverse, more multicultural with each passing year? Within a generation, the Democratic Party is likely to be a majority-minority party.
Which candidate will set out the long-term vision that reflects that future? And which of the media outlets will actually take that agenda seriously? Twenty years ago, I called for bold leadership and a new direction. Aren’t we overdue for both?
In July, we approach the 40th anniversaries of the 1967 riots in Newark and Detroit. It’s time to go beyond anecdotes, stereotypes and idle opinion, and seriously revisit the Kerner Report and examine today’s “two Americas.” There is an unbroken line of despair that leads from those riots to our too-often-ignored, too-often-incarcerated, too-often-feared urban children of today. America is still No. 1 in too many areas of pain. With an open race, and so many candidates, isn’t it time for a new vision for urban America?
Reverend Jackson n can be contacted by e-mail at