Writing Tomorrow’s Black History
By Misty M. Ginicola
Black History Month is a time when we reflect on the amazing contributions to our society by our African American brothers and sisters. While it is incredibly important to recognize this history and honor the role of African Americans in our culture and in the counseling profession, I want to add to this conversation by focusing on what are we doing right now to create a change in the future for African Americans. Thinking about our role in social justice reform is part of the new Multicultural and Social Justice Counseling Competencies created by the American Counseling Association in 2015. In addition to the awareness, knowledge and skills, counselors are required to take social justice action, as well as to consider the marginalization and privilege for both clients and the counselor.
There is no doubt that the United States has come a long way in terms of its treatment of African Americans; however, the statistics indicate that there is still a long way to go. Black Americans still face overt and covert oppression and racism. Even though many U.S. citizens have become numb and/or complacent about the treatment of Blacks in our culture, the disparity in treatment between Whites and Blacks in the United States has become a global concern. In fact, a recent work group from the United Nations (2016) drew attention to the mistreatment of African Americans in the United States and urged legislative action to change the course of this type of oppression.
Let’s explore what the U.N. means when they speak about inequality and mistreatment of African Americans. The statistics are clear and consistent:
• African Americans have significantly higher rates of overall poor health, obesity and hypertension than Whites; they are also less likely to have health insurance (CDC, 2016).
• African Americans have twice the number of infant mortality rates than Whites (CDC, 2016).
• African Americans are more than twice as likely to be unemployed, and therefore are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than Whites (Feeding America, 2016).
• One in 4 African American households are food insecure as compared to 1 in 10 Caucasian households (Feeding America, 2016).
• The median net worth of White, non-Hispanic families is almost 8 times greater than the median net worth of a non-white minority family (Inequality.org, 2014). This is much worse for Black families in particular; A typical white household has 16 times the income and wealth of an African American one (Shin, 2015).
• Students of color face harsher punishments in school, starting in preschool (American Progress, 2016). Black Americans are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students (US News, 2015). Although African American preschoolers make up only 18% of the preschool population, they represent 48% of multiple out-of-school suspensions (Hseih, 2014).
• Black students are three times more likely to attend a school where less than 60% of teachers meet all state education certification requirements.
• Black students are more likely to be held back in every grade (Education Week, 2012).
• African American youth are more likely to be referred to law enforcement, arrested and incarcerated than their white peers (American Progress, 2016).
• African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense (NAACP, 2016).
• During a routine traffic stop, African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and four times as likely to experience police force than their white counterparts (American Progress, 2016).
• Black American are incarcerated at nearly six times the rates of whites (NAACP, 2016). Due in part to racial profiling and racially motivated searches, 1 of 3 African American men will be incarcerated during their lifetime (American Progress, 2016).
• African Americans serve approximately as much time in prison for drug offenses as whites do for a violent offense (NAACP, 2016).
• Following release from prison, black former inmates wages grow at 21% slower rate than white ex-convicts (American Progress, 2016).
• Voter laws that exclude those with felony convictions disproportionately impact men of color (American Progress, 2016).
• While White Americans’ homicide rates (about 2.5 per 100,000) are slightly higher than other industrialized countries, Black Americans are killed at 12 times the rate of people in other developed countries (19.4 per 100,000; Silver, 2015).
With these statistics in mind, it is clear that we, as both citizens and counselors, need to take action to make the conditions for all African Americans more equitable. Educating others on the unequal treatment of minorities and supporting minority actions are ways to change the course of history for Black Americans. Supporting drug and sentencing legislature reform can make a large difference in the pursuit of equality. Additionally, supporting legislature and politicians who address income inequality and racial disparities are also crucial in creating better lives for African Americans.
We, as a society, are now actively forming the history of African Americans for future generations. The extent of the contributions of African Americans to U.S. culture is commensurate with the opportunities that they are given within our society. If we continue to ignore such oppressive inequality, we are limiting the potential of Black lives in this country. If we support and foster Black lives, then we are helping to create a better future for all Americans. It is now up to us to determine what history we wish to write for tomorrow.
American Cousneling Association. (2015). Multicultural and social justice counseling competencies. Available online at: https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/competencies/multicultural-and-social-justice-counseling-competencies.pdf?sfvrsn=20
Center for American Progress. (2016). The top 10 most startling facts about people of color and criminal justice in the united states. Available online at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2012/03/13/11351/the-top-10-most-startling-facts-about-people-of-color-and-criminal-justice-in-the-united-states/
Center for Disease Control (2016). Fast Facts: Race and Ethnicity. Available online at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/black-health.htm#
Education Week. (2012). Civil rights data shows retention disparities. Available online at: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/03/07/23data_ep.h31.html
Feeding America. (2016). African American Hunger Fact Sheet. Available online at: http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/african-american-hunger/african-american-hunger-fact-sheet.html
Hseih, S. (2014). 14 disturbing stats about racial inequality in American public schools. Available online at: http://www.thenation.com/article/14-disturbing-stats-about-racial-inequality-american-public-schools/
Inequality.org. (2014). Racial Inequality. Available online at: http://inequality.org/racial-inequality/
NAACP. (2016). Criminal Justice Fact Sheet. Available online at: http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet
Shin, L. (2015). The racial wealth gap. Available online at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2015/03/26/the-racial-wealth-gap-why-a-typical-white-household-has-16-times-the-wealth-of-a-black-one/#5a556dc36c5b
Silver, N. (2015). Black Americans are killed at 12 times the rate of people in other developed countries. http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/black-americans-are-killed-at-12-times-the-rate-of-people-in-other-developed-countries/
United Nations. (2016). Statement to the media by the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to USA, 19-29 January 2016. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17000&LangID=E
U.S. News (2015). U.S. education: Still separate and unequal. Available online at: http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2015/01/28/us-education-still-separate-and-unequal