National Urban League Annual Report Highlights Hypocrisy of America’s ‘Egalitarian Values’

The National Urban League (NUL) released its annual report on the State of Black America on Tuesday, and for those who stay aware of race relations in our country, the findings are disturbing but not surprising. This 46th edition entitled “Under Siege: the Plot to Destroy Democracy,” raises the alarms on the outlook of Black and brown citizens as political forces in relation to the contemporary attacks on voting rights exhibited nationally. Through this report, the NUL President and CEO Marc Morial specifically noted the concerns over the dismantlement of American democracy stemming from state and federal lawmakers working in concert with political operatives and extremists.

The report highlights the increasing exposure to the fragility of our democracy, despite the American exceptionalism that buries the very real systemic issues plaguing our nation. Fueled by “The Big Lie” that ravaged through the minds of too many Americans following the 2020 election, state legislatures are restricting voting access in districts with large populations of Black Americans and other people of color (POC). Since the Jan. 6 insurrection, over 40 states have introduced hundreds of bills to take away expanded options for people to vote, which has the potential to further limit civic engagement and possibly widen the civic engagement gap.

Partnering with the NUL, the Brennan Center for Justice provides data on the states that introduced bills and signed laws providing partisan power to control the outcome of our elections. Tactics employed by politicians and lawmakers that work towards voter suppression include gerrymandering, misinformation, intimidation, stricter voter ID laws and ending forms of early voting. Although this is certainly not the first time these methods were utilized in an effort to exclude voters of color, our nation has not seen such an insidious and coordinated campaign to destroy the principle of “one person, one vote” that defines our democracy since the Jim Crow era.

In considering Georgia as ground-zero in voter suppression and the assault on democracy, the NUL specifically chose to release the report at Clark Atlanta University, featuring students from Atlanta’s four HBCUs, Urban League affiliate presidents from around the country and other national civil rights leaders. The release coincided with the launch of NUL’s “Reclaim Your Vote” campaign aimed at motivating civic engagement. “Reclaim Your Vote” targets voter suppression and is mobilizing citizens to participate in the elections this fall because, as Morial put it in an interview with PBS, “If you do not have a seat at the table, you will literally be on the menu.”

The report also includes an Equality Index, the NUL’s semi-annual calculation of the social and economic status of Black Americans, which revealed that Black citizens get only 73.9% of the full American pie that white citizens enjoy. While the index exhibits economic and health gains for Black Americans, there has been backsliding in areas such as education, social justice and civic engagement since it was launched in 2005. Ultimately, the index illustrates how precarious social and economic gains are for Black Americans, as well as the vulnerability of this demographic to economic and public health crises. Officials said because of a lag in data collection, the 2022 Equality Index does not capture the full effect of the COVID-19 pandemic or the resulting economic recession, but does capture changes during the pandemic for homeownership, unemployment rates and school enrollment.

The index reveals that the median annual household income for Black citizens, at $43,862, is 37% less than that of white citizens, who earn on average $69,823, and that Black Americans are less likely to benefit from home ownership, the engine of generational wealth in our country. In terms of health and wellbeing, life expectancy has declined slightly for Black Americans to the age of 74.7, four years less than white Americans. Many other health inequalities loom, with Black women 59% more likely to die as a result of bearing a child, and 31% more likely to die of breast cancer; Black men are also 52% more likely to die of prostate cancer. Educational gaps are further exposed as Black and white preschoolers are shown to be roughly equally prepared, but the classrooms that foster their exceedingly important growth and development are drastically different. Schools with more minority students are more likely to be underfunded and have inexperienced or even uncertified teachers, on top of many other systemic obstacles embedded in our educational system. 

What’s hardest to ignore from these annual reports is how institutional disparity based on race is built into American society. Despite our decades of proclamations of being the “land of the free” that promises egalitarianism for all, the data of our reality paints a very different picture of a country that has actively worked to restrict the very existence of POC in America. There may never be another opportunity to design America as a democratic institution for the people by the people; we must fight these assaults on the rights our country claims to grant us for being citizens but instead utilizes as a weapon for maintaining political power in very specific hands – white hands.