Comedian Chris Rock once did a segment on his series called the “Black Progress Report.”
Using a chart shaped like a ladder and a Velcro cutout of a man, Rock satirized the state of Black America by showing how close “we as a people are to being ‘there’.” Example: “Mae Jemison becomes the first black woman in space, three steps forward. Marion Barry becomes first black mayor videotaped in a hotel room ‘high,’ eight steps back!”
I thought about this hilarious sketch when I was contemplating the state of African-Americans today.
For the first time ever, two African-American NFL coaches (Chicago Bears’ Lovie Smith and Indianapolis Colts’ Tony Dungy) have led teams to the Superbowl. Before this year no black coach ever made it to the Superbowl; now there are two. It guarantees one of them will be the first black coach to win a Superbowl as well … three steps forward.
Out of the 32 teams currently in the NFL only six had black coaches during the 2006 season. Smith is currently the lowest paid coach in the league at $1.35 million per year, which is fieldhand salary by NFL standards … two steps back.
Whitney Young child prodigy Kayin Barclay becomes the first African-American to be ranked the No. 1 high school chess player in the state. He won the title by winning the Illinois Denker Qualifier … four steps forward.
Yes, but this may be the exception that proves the rule. Although the gap is closing, African-American students are still plagued with achievement gaps in reading, mathematics and safety within their schools. Dropout rates have fallen to 10 percent since 2000, but this is still too high. Many of the solutions put forth to close the gap are unproven experiments (ala Renaissance 2010) that would probably not be accepted in more affluent districts … five steps back.
At this year’s Academy Awards, five African Americans are nominated in acting categories, a record for one year. (In fact, with two Latinos and an Asian also nominated, it is the most diverse group ever.) The nominees include Best Actor contenders Will Smith and Forest Whitaker (considered the front-runner); Best Supporting Actor nominees Eddie Murphy and Djimon Hounsou; and Supporting Actress newcomer Jennifer Hudson … three steps forward.
According to new figures released by the Screen Actors Guild, minority actors now take more than 20 percent of the movie and television roles each year. That’s progress, but with whites still getting 80 percent of the pie, it’s still less diverse than it should be. In fact, some observers note television, remains especially segregated into programs targeting blacks and those targeting the white middle-class. (There’s always the U network.) L.A. Times commentator Karen Grigsby-Bates says, “Most prime-time shows on network television today harken back to the all-white shows of the 1950s.” … four steps back.
Illinois Senator and expected presidential candidate Barack Obama has, according to House Speaker Michael Madigan, “galvanized this country in ways few have.” Obama’s charisma, oratorical skills, approachability and ability to speak in the language of all potential constituents, regardless of race or political persuasion, have created such a media stir that some are wondering if he can become the first black president … six steps forward.
… Until you look at the polls. The Washington Post reports Hillary Clinton holds a sizable (47 percent to 17 percent) lead on Obama in the polls, proving that he has his work cut out for him if he wants to buck tradition. One journalist on Meet the Press said, “The Democrats can’t be happy with having an African-American and a woman as the front-runners for the presidential nomination. They need a white male opponent to make up some ground.” … seven steps back.