IT DOESN'T take the National Urban League's State of Black America 1991 report or public opinion surveys to document what many people already know well. More than 125 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, race still matters greatly in this country. The dimensions of the problem of racial inequality and the issues associated with its persistence and pervasiveness still must be laid before the nation -- not in a spirit of national fault-finding or self-flagellation but because racial injustice is a burden that must be lifted from both black and white Americans.
The well-known points of vulnerability for blacks are all there in the league's report: low and unequal wages, undereducated and unskilled youth, a preponderance of female-headed families, drug- and violence-ridden communities and a health care delivery system that is either inaccessible or priced out of reach. It draws the relationship between today's poverty and "the centrality of race in our history." The familiar prescriptions are there too: calls for federal action on an Urban Marshall Plan and the enactment of programs for national health insurance, housing, job training and gun control. The league also issues a plea for repassage of the civil rights bill that President Bush vetoed last year.
While acknowledging the austere fiscal climate, the National Urban League rightly urges that these subjects be placed higher on the nation's agenda. But it is league president John E. Jacob's call for "an open, pluralistic, integrated society in which the races are equal" that deserves special attention, since it now is clear that budget deficits and economic hard times aren't the only barriers to progress by blacks and other minorities.
As disclosed in a National Opinion Research Center survey sponsored by the National Science Foundation, most whites persist in holding negative and false images of blacks and other minorities. The fact that so many believe in this day that blacks and Hispanics are as a class and by definition more likely to prefer welfare to work, to be more violence-prone, lazier, less intelligent and less patriotic only underscores the continued presence of a serious abnormality in the national psyche.
It needs fixing, and that's not the job of the National Urban League alone. Repairing this condition will take the work of religious and educational communities, business, labor and government, voluntary groups and political leaders. They should take it as a mission.