Yesterday’s “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony in Washington, D.C., honored the nation's substantial advances in racial equality in the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
But events this year — from the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act to the House eliminating funding for food stamps to the Trayvon Martin trial — are posing serious challenges to our national progress towards true equality for all.
An infographic from the Public Religion Research Institute, "The Dream by the Numbers," highlights systemic inequalities that still work against communities of color today. The statistics are grim: black communities are unemployed at nearly double the rate of white communities. Fewer than 20 percent of black youth will receive a college or graduate degree. Twice as many blacks lack health insurance as whites. And nearly 70 percent of blacks surveyed mentioned “lack of opportunities for young people” as a top concern for their community.
One of the most sobering indicators of racial inequality, not documented in PRRI’s graphic, is the incarceration rate for people of color. While whites and blacks have similar levels of drug use, blacks are 10 times as likely to be incarcerated. This contributes to a monstrously skewed proportion of black communities behind bars — so bad, in fact, that there are more black people under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850.
So, after yesterday’s moving memorial to Dr. King and the 1963 March on Washington, where do we go from here? Yesterday, President Obama reminded the thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial that the courage to face these challenges comes “when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. And with that courage, we can stand together for good jobs and just wages...for the right to health care in the richest nation on Earth for every person...for the right of every child, from the corners of Anacostia to the hills of Appalachia, to get an education that stirs the mind and captures the spirit.”
“That,” said the president, echoing Dr. King, “is how history bends.”
See PRRI’s infographic, below.
Catherine Woodiwiss is Associate Web Editor at Sojourners. Find her on Twitter @chwoodiwiss.