The Urban League Thinks Globally

July 26, 1994

The new head of the National Urban League said something over the weekend that very much needed to be said by a black leader: "We must not let ourselves, and particularly our children, fall in the paranoid trap of thinking that racism accounts for all that plagues us," said Hugh Price, the league's new president.

Neither he -- nor we -- believes white racism is dead in the United States. It is alive and well, and its impact on black advancement is often potent and harmful. But the truth is, there is far less white racism -- individual and institutional -- than in the past. Where the law once was used to deny blacks equal opportunity, the law now is used to overcome such denial.

A much bigger "culprit" in black economic despair, Mr. Price said, is "the global realignment of work and wealth." Relatively low-paying but steady jobs for the less well educated have been going overseas for years. Sky-high youth unemployment in big city ghettos is attributable much more to the hiring practices of entrepreneurs and corporations in Latin America, Asia and Africa than to bias on the part of white American business executives.

Merely recognizing this is not going to relieve the misery of the black slums any more than blaming it on white prejudice relieved it. But it can re-direct black attention, energy and problem-solving to the true root causes of poverty, drug abuse, crime and other social maladies in black communities: Poor education, breakdown of family structure and values, and, in some cases, black racism. Such racism is self-defeating for many reasons. As Mr. Price noted, the problems blacks face are also problems for some non-black communities. "If we're ever going to deal with them on a scale remotely equal to their size, we must coalesce with people of other complexions who feel the same pain, even if it isn't as acute."

Wise words, and welcome ones, at a time when some other black leaders are flirting with a separatist -- even militantly exclusionary -- approach to civil rights. "Many whites of good will have accompanied us on our long journey for racial, social and economic justice," Mr. Price reminded those leaders, though not by name. "None has matched the Jewish community as long-distance runners in the civil rights movement."

Such common sense and bridge-building will, in the long run, do more to bring to the black underclass the same breakthroughs the traditional civil rights coalition has won for middle-class blacks.

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