The annual exercise that is the National Urban League’s State of Black America Report is, by far, one of the more essential yearly exercises in policy thought leadership. It’s a needed and can’t-do-without pulse checker that gives us the comprehensive helicopter flyover of the community. While some might question whether it passes the snuff test of a truly balanced, non-partisan document, it remains to be seen if there is a viable contender study in size, scope and undertaking. The League gets many nods of respect for its consistency, managing to push out what has become the authoritative autopsy on African Americans as a collective since 1976. It clearly establishes NUL as the big brother in the room. That’s heading into nearly 40 years of copious documentation pulled into a per annum bible that should sit on every Black bookshelf … if you manage to grab a copy.
Yet, its biggest problem is not so much esoteric hair-splitting over agenda suspicions (many Black conservatives constantly grouse and moan over being left out), but the way in which it is largely ignored or glossed over by mainstream conversation. It may get respectable, somewhat obligatory play through a multitude of Black press channels – which is, of course, what they’re supposed to do or risk the sting of a head slap from a grandparent. But it will barely make the headline of the day or week on the front pages or sites of large go-to international publications. That is, frankly, quite sad and – dare we venture – despicable: it’s nothing more than willful, garish ignorance of what’s happening with 15 percent of the population (because Black folks are woefully undercounted in the Census).
Perhaps if the rest of the world were to pay attention to the SOBA – as it’s been affectionately abbreviated in recent years – there’d be better understanding when tragedies occur. Which is the point of the report: a sort of courtesy aimed to preempt any feelings of betrayal or ambush. An axiomatic ‘We told you so’ as a way to forewarn the rest that something is on the horizon. It’s typically a very serious and sometimes unbearably ominous data dump of grim, but it does its job for those who read it.