The COVID-19 pandemic not only unmasked the stark racial inequities in the nation’s economic, health care and public safety status quo; it gave rise to a fierce resistance to that status quo and fueled demand for racial justice that grows more intense with each passing month.
The National Urban League’s 2021 State of Black America® report, “The New Normal: Diverse, Equitable & Inclusive,” charts a path forward as the nation emerges from these “three pandemics.”
“The United States finds itself at crossroads of racial reckoning,” National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial said. “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 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.”
Analysis from research partners Brookings Institution, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, and Center for Policing Equity not only reveal how structural and institutional racism magnified the devastation inflicted by COVID-19 infection and death, economic collapse and police violence, but also offer a glimpse of a more equitable future.
Among the findings: Higher rates of unemployment, lower household incomes and net worth, and the crushing burden of housing costs left Black Americans uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19’s economic fallout; economic burdens like lack of high-speed internet access and a dearth of health-care facilities in Black neighborhoods contributed more to the vaccine racial gap than hesitancy; and overpolicing of Black communities – particularly frequent stops of Black boys, is associated with more crime among those boys, not less.
The report highlights innovative solutions for overcoming racial barriers, such as free and low-cost banking services that allow households to build wealth and a credit history, an approach to treating hypertension that focuses on social needs like housing and transportation, and virtual responses to some police calls.
“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,” Morial said. “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.”
Featured authors include:
• Kristen E. Broady, Fellow at Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program
• Andre M. Perry, Senior Fellow at Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program
• California Congresswoman Katie Porter
• Dr. Lisa A. Cooper, Founder, and Director at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity
• Illinois Congresswoman Robin Kelly
• Matthew McCurdy, Director of Programs at Health DesignED, and President & Co-Founder of BLKHLTH Inc.
• Thasunda Brown Duckett, President & CEO at TIAA
• Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Director for the Justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School
• Wade Henderson, Interim President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Founding Board Member, Center for Responsible Lending
• Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., Chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee
• Geoffrey Starks, Commissioner of the United States Federal Communications Commission
The report includes a focus on two major policy proposals the National Urban League developed in 2021 to address racial inequities in public safety and the economy. 21 Pillars for Redefining Public Safety and Restoring Community Trust is a comprehensive framework for criminal justice advocacy that takes a holistic approach to public safety, the restoration of trust between communities and law enforcement, and a path forward for meaningful change. The Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion is a strategy for leveraging the tools of the information economy to create a more equitable and inclusive society.
The 2021 report does not include an Equality IndexTM, a calculation of the social and economic status of African Americans relative to whites. Since 2018, the Index is calculated every other year. The 2022 Equality Index is expected to reflect the upheaval of the pandemic.
The report also includes a tribute to the late Vernon E. Jordan, who served as President of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981, issuing the first State of Black America in 1976. Jordan passed away in March of this year.
“This transitional moment in history would have been familiar to Jordan, who assumed leadership of the National Urban League at a time when the United States was adapting to the sweeping changes of the Civil Rights Era,” Morial said. “We were, as he put it, dealing with the rubble of the walls we tore down in the 1960s. Now we are dealing with the rubble of the walls torn down by COVID.”
To elevate and expand on the report, a dynamic virtual series, sponsored by AT&T, DoorDash, Geico, and Zendesk, will premiere at 2pm Eastern Time on StateOfBlackAmerica.org, featuring some of the nation’s most important thought-leaders and influencers including:
• Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, author, minister, social activist, and Vanderbilt University professor
• Dr. Tracie L. Keesee, co-founder and Senior Vice President of Social Justice Initiatives, Center for Policing Equity
• Ed Gordon, Emmy-winning broadcaster, and author of Conversation in Black: On Power, Politics and Leadership
• Jennifer Jones Austin, Esq., CEO and Executive Director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
• Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr., President and CEO, Black Enterprise
Marc H. Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League, the nation’s largest historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization. As Mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002, Morial led New Orleans’ renaissance, and left office with a 70% approval rating. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Economics and African American Studies, he also holds a law degree from the Georgetown University.