In Washington last week, work began on a memorial to honour the murdered Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thousands attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the monument, which will be fittingly situated near the Lincoln Memorial where King gave his legendary “I have a dream” speech.
While the monument is a wonderful testament to how far King’s dream has taken him and his fellow African-Americans, statistics show that many blacks have still not realized this dream of equality, whether it is economically, educationally or culturally in contemporary America.
Although blacks have greatly benefited from the advances made during and after the Civil Rights era, they are still struggling to achieve economic parity with whites. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the median income of black families was $33,255, whereas the median income for white families was $53,356. A study at the University of Connecticut revealed the main reason for this wage discrepancy is that employed blacks earn approximately 72 percent of the wages that whites earn. In addition to wage gaps, blacks suffer disproportionately from job loss and underemployment, especially during economic slowdowns. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, in September of 2004 the unemployment rate for blacks was 10.3 percent, more than double the white unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
The direct impact of this economic inequality is that many blacks do not receive adequate health care. As a result, blacks suffer exceedingly more from heart disease, stroke and diabetes than whites do. According to the Medical University of South Carolina, the life expectancy for black men born in 1997 is 66 years compared to 74 years for white men. Furthermore, the life expectancy for black women is 74 as opposed to 80 years for white women.
Besides the physical costs they endure, blacks also suffer in education because of this economic inequality. At first glance this might not appear to be the case as college enrollment rates for blacks rose an impressive 42.7 percent between 1993 and 2003. However, these growing enrollment rates do not guarantee higher graduation rates for blacks. The American Council on Education reports that among students who entered college in 1995-96, only 36.4 percent of blacks earned a bachelor’s degree within six years, whereas 58 percent of whites and 62.3 percent of Asian-Americans earned their degrees.
The main reason for this lack of college success for blacks is economical. According to Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College in Atlanta, the reason why so many black students don’t persevere in college is because “they’re simply running out of money.”
Perhaps the largest obstacles blacks face today lies with our current media industries and the criminal justice system. Last week the Center for Political and Economic Studies released a report confirming the media does overrepresent minorities as criminals and whites as victims or law enforcers. The study also concluded that black defendants were twice as likely as white defendants to receive negative pretrial publicity. While these media images of blacks may seem isolated, the cumulative effect of these mischaracterizations permeates our criminal justice system and government policymaking. The end result is an unbalanced justice system that delivers lopsided consequences.
Even though this accusation does sound radical, consider that in 2003 Human Rights Watch reported that 63 percent of all drug offenders admitted to prison were black, even though blacks made up only 13 percent of regular drug users in the U.S. Furthermore, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that while the drug incarceration rate for whites doubled from 1986 to 1996, the drug incarceration rates for blacks quintupled during that same time. Looking at these appalling numbers, it’s obvious that blacks are still the targets of the intense negative stereotyping, and that they are still subject to gross injustice.
Ultimately, people assume that because blacks are no longer exposed to the same blatant hostility and racism that existed 40 years ago, we have achieved Martin Luther King’s dream. Sadly, the statistics show that this is not the case.
Yet slow progress does not mean we should give up on the dream of equality; because if there is anything Martin Luther King taught us during his brief 39 years of life, it’s that “Progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It is made by people who do not grow weary in doing good, secure in the knowledge that the time is always right to do right.”
Patrick Molnar is a business sophomore and Mustang Daily political columnist.