Have Blacks Advanced in the 21st Century? by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.

Six years ago, I made a public plea for our community to achieve a set of goals that would move us further up the path toward full integration into American society.  I said at that time – and I still consider it to be true – that if full integration is the goal, then black Americans needed to make every effort to achieve this outcome to ensure our survival.   

Consider the following quote from a New Visions Commentary that was published by Project 21 in February of 2001:

Many in our modern civilization may find it adequate to “make it up as it goes along.”  A people plagued by the enormity of problems that are faced by African-Americans, however, cannot settle for a haphazard unearthing of solutions.  We must use our knowledge of history and of the present day to formulate solutions that we can forecast.  This is history on a planned basis, so that we achieve our goals during the 21st Century.  Procrastination may result in the non-existence of African-Americans as we know ourselves today by the end of the century.

In “What are Black Americans’ Goals and Will They Be Realized During the 21st Century?”  I took the liberty to set goals in three areas where black Americans could initially strive for parity with their white and other racial counterparts.  These areas were per capita income (defined as the total money income for a group spread evenly across the entire community), educational attainment and political participation.

I also suggested that the likelihood of success in achieving these goals would be directly proportional to the amount of care and planning involved.

Since then, how well have we fared?

On the first count, data available from the Census Bureau’s web site reveals that blacks lost ground in achieving per capita income parity.  In 2002, black per capita income, adjusted to exclude the effects of inflation, was 66.7 percent of that for all Americans.  By 2005, that ratio fell to 66.4 percent.

In the case of educational attainment, the news is better.  Census figures on this subject show blacks increased their level of educational attainment faster than the general population between 2002 and 2005.  While the percentage of blacks relative to whites who were 25 years or older in 2002 and held at least a high school diploma stood at 93.6 percent in 2002, it increased to 95.2 percent by 2005.  Similarly, the percentage of blacks relative to whites age 25 or older with bachelor’s degrees stood at 63.7 percent in 2002.  That ratio rose slightly to 63.8 percent in 2005.

As for black voting habits, Census documents show the ratio of reported black voters as a percentage of total black citizens – compared to overall reported voting as a percentage of all citizens – increased from 91.8 percent for the congressional elections of 2002 to 94.0 percent during the 2004 presidential election.  While overall voting tends to increase in presidential election years, it nonetheless indicates that blacks did make progress in political participation.

Some might be tempted to think “two out of three ain’t bad.”  However, others can make a strong argument that income and wealth trump the other two areas.  Consequently, the fact that blacks made progress in achieving educational and political participation parity but lost ground in income parity is disconcerting.

Why have we failed to advance toward economic parity, and – to tell the truth – have only progressed slightly in the other areas?  Might it have something to do with those who claim to be our leaders?  Instead of providing the vision and guidance that can stimulate blacks’ overall success, those publicly representing our community often seem more interested in the number of blacks on TV shows or in professional coaching positions – outcomes that have limited short- or long-term benefit for our community. 

For example, a visit to the web sites of the NAACP and the National Urban League reveal that neither organization provides a set of long-term goals for black Americans to follow.  This lack of guidance may help explain why the rest of black America appears to fight the same battles over and over again.  We all know too well that it is possible to travel in circles without a proper roadmap.

In reality, this may explain why blacks experience limited progress or even decrements in our efforts to achieve parity with national averages in crucial areas such as income. 

I asked for and set some goals for black America six years ago.  These goals still need work and more must be set.  What goals will you set for you, your family, and your community?  Make no mistake about it, this is an urgent matter that requires serious attention if we are to measure progress at the one-quarter mark of the 21st century. 

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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21.  You can visit his website at www.blackeconomics.org.   Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.