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United ‘Negro’ College Fund!
Obama donating his Nobel Prize winnings to the United Negro College Fund shows a new acceptance of the term ‘Negro’; a Black & White view

“The recession has been hard on them, and they will be encouraged that the first African American President of the US is investing in their education and their future,” was the reaction of United Negro College Fund (UNCF) President and CEO Michael L. Lomax, when he heard the White House announcing that President Obama had chosen UNCF as a recipient of part of his Nobel Prize money. UNCF will receive $125,000 that will help at least a thousand students to graduate. This may not guarantee the end of the age-old dilemma of racial discrimination but will greatly encourage the African American community development cause. More importantly, it brings to public front once again the term ‘Negro’, which had attained classically derogatory overtones since the Civil Rights movement. But changing times and a black President are ensuring that the term becomes more acceptable; and how!

The historical journey of Blacks from being Negro slaves to the current times has been full of struggles as well as milestones. Blacks have consistently been the second largest racial minority after Whites. Statistics on Blacks reveal an interesting picture. According to the first US census in 1790, Blacks made up 19.3% of the US population numbering around 760,000 of which 697,681 (92%) were slaves! Since then, their percentage share to the total population declined gradually till 1930 when it came down to 9.7%. As of 2008, Blacks made up 12.4% of the US population.

But the fact of the matter still remains that though their century long struggle took them away from slavery, they are still victims of racial discrimination and lag behind Whites in the socio-economic strata. For example, the median household income of Whites has increased from $39,463 in 1975 to $50,673 in 2006, the same for Blacks has increased from $23,691 in 1975 to $31,969. Interestingly, Blacks earn only 65% of the wages of Whites. This figure is down from 82% in 1975!

Blacks struggled for equal job opportunities during the era of great migration during 1910-20. The struggle was a success, as it resulted in their employment doubling – from 500,000 to 901,000 – in a few years. But the recent recession revealed the new reality. Blacks suffer unreasonably more than Whites with respect to job losses, especially amidst recession, earning them the stereotype branding – “Last hired, first fired.” In October 2008, the unemployment rate for Blacks was 11.1% – the nationwide unemployment rate was 6.5%. By October 2009, when national unemployment rate was 10.2%, that of African Americans was 15.7%. Unemployment rate of Blacks aged 16 to 24 was 30.5%.
Inadequate health care, institutional racism, discrimination in education and criminal justice have been persistent issues of concerns for Blacks. The poverty rate for Blacks has come down from 26.5% in 1998 to 24.7% in 2008 while the national rate has gone down to 13.2%. When it comes to education, Blacks attend college at about half the rate of Whites. Merely 17.3% of Blacks have completed college. Widespread housing discrimination was quite common for Blacks. For example, under the nationwide Urban Renewal Projects programme, Federal Government demolished 20% of urban housing units inhabited by Blacks, while only 10% houses occupied by Whites were demolished. 60% of the people displaced were minorities.

However, Blacks remain an influential community. They represent the second largest consumer group with a buying power of over $892 billion, which is forecasted to reach over $1.1 trillion by 2012. Blacks owned 1.2 million of the America’s 23 million businesses in 2002. Their involvement in America’s political process is more prominent than of any other minority group, because of a cultural legacy of standing up to oppose discrimination – one reason that on April 25, 1944, one Dr. Frederick Patterson (named by his mother after the anti-slavery journalist leader Frederick Douglass) set up the United Negro College Fund. Patterson was a double doctorate (from Iowa and Cornell) and became Tuskegee University’s third President. He single-handedly set up UNCF to ensure that disadvantaged Blacks would get education support that would otherwise be impossible to procure.

He succeeded to such an extent that when John F. Kennedy got his Nobel Prize, he donated that money to UNCF. Patterson didn’t have an issue with the usage of the term Negro. Neither did UNCF. In 1987, President Reagan awarded Patterson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award. In 1987, Patterson died aged 86. In 2010, Obama’s donation to UNCF was to follow his commitments for the Black and ‘Negro’ cause. In the same year, the United States Census Bureau included the term ‘Negro’ in the census classification – accepting that Blacks still identified with the term. The legacy is rewritten a full circle.

By:- Akram Hoque

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