THE BLOG
05/28/2013 04:20 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2013

Don't Celebrate Just Yet...

Sometimes, we need to take a moment and pause. As a nation, where are we in 2013, and what exactly do we want our future to look like? When President Obama was elected in 2008, it was a notable, historic moment for all of us. Re-electing him in 2012 only strengthened our collective commitment towards progressing forward. But while we praise our achievements in moving past many of the previously established blockades in society, we cannot and should not engage in premature celebration before we have completed the journey. At this very moment, the lack of diversity in places like corporate America, in the medical and legal fields, in boardrooms and at entry-level positions in a multitude of industries are severely lacking, if not regressing backwards. Simultaneously, we see attempts at removing equalizers such as Affirmative Action, and attacks against the Voting Rights Act itself. If this tells us anything, it's that our work is just beginning.

Only a little more than 1 percent of the country's Fortune 500 companies have black chief executives, according to an alarming piece in the NY Times this week. As the article highlights, while about 12 percent of the nation's working-age population is black, about 5 percent of physicians and dentists in the U.S. are black -- a share that has not grown since 1990. Only 3 percent of American architects are Black (that figure also has not grown in more than two decades), and the share of women and minority lawyers fell for the first time in 2010 since stats were first recorded in 1993. According to the Times, businesses have severely cut their diversity programs and diversity recruitment, while states like Arizona, Michigan, Oklahoma and New Hampshire have pushed to ban race-based affirmative action.

When the great recession of '08 struck the country, Blacks suffered far greater unemployment numbers than their White counterparts. And while the economy has unquestionably improved over the past few years, Blacks are still facing double-digit unemployment, higher foreclosure rates and a tremendous loss of overall wealth. As employers begin to recruit, they often go first to those referred by their inner circles. If we are not in the decision making room to begin with, we cannot raise a voice of concern over the lack of diversity. And when corporations are cutting back efforts to hire and retain minorities because of budgetary constraints, how can we ever think that progress has been fully achieved?

Some would like to believe that because we now have a black president, that we no longer have a need to push for civil rights or equality. Nothing could be further from the truth. While we have noticeable successes with blacks in Congress, in some senior executive positions, in places previously unattainable including the highest office of the land, we cannot overlook the overwhelming stagnation across the board. Nor can we turn a blind eye towards efforts to regress the nation. The Supreme Court is set to rule in the near future on key issues that go to the heart of diversity and equality in this country. Two cases involve affirmative action policies at colleges and universities, while another case strikes directly at the Voting Rights Act itself, challenging Section 5.

Virtually everyone agrees that education and educational opportunities are some of the greatest methods of leveling the playing field. But when urban and rural schools are suffering from smaller budgets, lack of adequate teachers, textbooks, creative learning programs and much more, the ability of these students to even think about higher learning is already diminished. Because of these sorts of inequities, programs like affirmative action were put into place so that a diverse pool of students could receive a college education and an opportunity to better their lives and our communities at large. Despite study after study proving that multi-ethnic and socially/economically varied student bodies benefit us all, we see a concerted attempt to repeal such necessary laws. If the stats in the NY Times piece prove anything, it's that affirmative action is just as necessary now as it ever was.

Over the last few years, we also witnessed severely damaging methods at disenfranchising voters from the polls. When our history is filled with troubling chapters of poll taxation, literacy tests and other disingenuous efforts to block the votes of blacks, we must be weary of modern attempts at curbing voter participation like new ID laws. Because Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires those jurisdictions that have a history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain advanced approval from the federal government before altering their election laws, an attempt to eliminate Section 5 is an attempt to eliminate the very purpose of the law. It would be an utter disgrace.

Reflection is a good thing. It allows us to assess how far we have come, but also clearly see how much work remains. As I often say, we can both discuss how we as a nation have advanced, while still recognizing the challenges we still need to tackle. Until blacks, Latinos, women and other groups have a seat at the proverbial table of America's boardrooms and decision-making rooms, none of us should stop fighting for justice.

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