A Level Playing Field

Jesse Jackson | 9/4/2014, 9:41 a.m. | Updated on 9/4/2014, 9:41 a.m.
All of Chicago turned out to celebrate the U.S. Little League Champions, the players of Jackie Robinson West. The parade ...
Rev. Jesse Jackson

All of Chicago turned out to celebrate the U.S. Little League Champions, the players of Jackie Robinson West. The parade began at home plate at their field in Chicago's South Side and extended all the way to Millennium Park in the city's downtown. People of all color, race and religion turned out to applaud the young men who did so much to lift the spirits of a city too often scarred by violence.

How could an all black team of kids from low-income families in South Chicago win a national championship? First and foremost, everyone played by the same set of rules. They competed on a level playing field. They had good coaching, and family and community support. It was their families that taught them to compete, win and lose with grace. In that context, their natural talents were honed into championship caliber.

Their triumph stands in stark contrast with the reality that was so harshly exposed in Ferguson, Missouri, in the shooting of Michael Brown. In America, we still do not have a level playing field. African Americans, once enslaved and unequal, are now free, but still unequal. And that pervasive inequality in fact undermines formal equality under law.

Most poor people are not black, but African Americans are disproportionately poor. We suffer twice the unemployment rate as whites -- in good times as well as bad.

20 percent of children in America -- one in five -- are raised in poverty. Among African Americans, nearly 40 percent are in poverty.

The median family wealth for whites in America is about $113,000 (2009 figures); for African Americans, it is $5,677. The gap has been growing over the last thirty years.

Six decades after Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation, our children go to schools that are increasingly segregated and unequal.

Our nation is more diverse, but our communities are still mostly separate. A recent poll revealed that three-fourths of white Americans admit that they have no minority friends.

This inequality in fact undermines equality under the law. That is why the horror of Michael Brown's shooting haunts every African American parent. Our children -- particularly our male children -- are at risk. African Americans are more likely to be stopped on the street. If stopped, we are more likely to be detained. If detained, we are more likely to be charged. If charged, we are more likely to do time. That's routine, and it leads to too frequent horrors, like the shooting of Michael Brown.

America has come a long way on racial divides. The election of Barack Obama as president is testament to that. The young are much more comfortable with diversity than older generations. Overt racism is no longer acceptable in most of America. But our racial stereotypes, our preconceptions, our conscious and subconscious biases still do real damage to African Americans, and to our nation.

And we still do not provide a level playing field, where the rules are clear. For example, virtually every industrial nation provides more public resources to schools in low wage neighborhoods.