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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 


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.