The Transylvania Times -

How Far Have We Come?


January 20, 2020

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”

-Martin Luther King Jr.


It has been more than 55 years since Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and approaching 52 years since he was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. While black Americans have made substantial progress since 1968 and there have been many notable successes, such as the election of President Barack Obama and this year this country’s three beauty queens – Miss Teen USA, Miss America and Miss USA – being black or biracial, blacks still trail behind their white peers in many areas.

The Economic Policy Institute compared figures from 1968 to 2018 and found:

•Black Americans’ life expectancy at birth has increased substantially (up 11.5 years) between 1968 and today, outpacing the increase for whites (up 7.5 years). But black Americans born in 2018, on average, still should expect to live about 3.5 fewer years than a white person.

•In 1968, 54.4 percent of 25- to 29-year-old black Americans had a high school diploma. In 2018, 92.3 percent in the same age range had a high school diploma.

•College graduation rates have risen for black Americans. Among 25- to 29-year-olds, 9.1 percent had a college degree in 1968, a figure that increased to 22.8 percent in 2018. Over the same period, however, college graduation rates expanded for whites at a similar pace, rising from 16.2 percent in 1968 to 42.1 percent in 2018.

•Black workers earn just 82.5 cents on every dollar earned by white workers.

•The median wealth for a black family is 10 times less than that of the median wealth of a white family.

•The incarceration rate is six times greater for black Americans than it is white Americans.

Other studies reveal similar data, showing that blacks have made progress and closed the gap with whites in many areas, but are still behind.

The one area in which blacks have not made much progress is in leadership positions. According to Harvard Law School’s Forum on Corporate Governance, there are just four black chief executives at Fortune 500 companies. This is partly due to the tremendous wealth disparity between blacks and whites. Great wealth often is accumulated over generations, and the children of wealthy whites attend better schools and have personal connections to the upper echelons of the business world. At Harvard, the acceptance rate for legacy students, those who have family connections to the university, is roughly 33 percent; the overall acceptance rate at Harvard is 6 percent. These legacy systems reinforce a system of wealth from which blacks have been historically excluded.

However, even in areas in which blacks have broken through, such as sports, blacks are often absent from leadership positions. Blacks comprise more than 70 percent of the players in the National Football League, yet there are only two black head coaches in the league and just one black general manager. Not one of the 32 NFL owners is black.

With so many interconnected issues, there are numerous reasons for these disparities. As Glenn Loury wrote in The Black Conservative last year, “... societies are not amalgams of unrelated individuals creating themselves anew – out of whole cloth, as it were – in each generation. A complex web of social connections and a long train of historical influences interact to form the opportunities and shape the outlooks of individuals.”

In another article, Loury wrote, “To the extent that African-American youngsters do not have the experiences, are not exposed to the influences and do not benefit from the resources that foster and facilitate their human development, they fail to achieve their full human potential. This lack of development is what ultimately causes the persistent, stark racial disparities in income, wealth, education, family structure and much else.”

We have made progress since King’s historic speech, but there is still a significant way to go. That progress is dependent upon providing all children – regardless of their race– the resources, experiences and opportunities to reach their full potential as adults.


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