Voices from Lafayette's Black community consider democracy and the Black experience.

One step forward, two steps back

Man in a tie a coat
Matthew Miles is the Program Manager for the Center of Minority Excellence at South Louisiana Community College. Photo by Travis Gauthier

In 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech titled “The Negro and the American Dream” to the NAACP in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

In that speech, he lamented how “America has manifested a schizophrenic personality. She has been torn between [two] selves — a self in which she has proudly professed democracy and a self in which she has sadly practiced the antithesis of democracy.” 

These words today still carry weight. Although many strides have been made to advocate and pass legislation for civil rights, some steps have been taken backward as well. Consider the impacts of rulings on affirmative action and abortion laws, while state governments challenge diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. College demographics are showing how male enrollment numbers are declining, which is also connected to the younger generation’s thoughts and concerns about attending college in the first place.  

As democracy and civil rights are part of the American dream, the challenges blocking social mobility still cause many African Americans to be behind many of their counterparts. Access to affordable housing and financial literacy is still inequitable. Many African Americans have to work a minimum of two jobs just to afford rent and may not have the financial capital to own a home. Some African Americans acquire the capacity to own a home, but a report from 2022 linked racial discrimination to systemic undervaluation of Black- and Latino-owned homes. This discrimination highlights the existing inequities and systematic issues of bias regarding appraisal and lending opportunities for people of color.

The cost of college has increased. A large number of students have to work while in school to pay for educational attainment, support family members back home. Families debate sending their kids to college because of student loan debt. Additionally, any college students who are neurodivergent, struggle even more to find work after college. 

People of color have to spend more and more to return to school  — to reinvest in acquiring knowledge to access success — because the mental fortitude or perseverance to attend and finish post secondary education may not be available to a young 18-year-old. Teaching young adults how to develop multiple sources of income and educational tools to navigate life choices can also create entrepreneurship opportunities. 

Entrepreneurship can have a great impact on Black and Brown communities and help them to close the racial wealth gap. But common barriers like economic, market, sociocultural and institutional barriers still exist. Limited access to professional networks and relationships, which assist in branding and exposure, hinders growth and leads many young entrepreneurs of color to franchising, but only those who have access to capital. 

The right to freedom of religion continues to be a beacon of hope and light. Yet that right does not guarantee their safety when they come under attack from gunmen while they are participating in Bible study. 

Churches, as a result, have had to develop emergency plans, raise awareness and establish precautions to protect their members. Many churches have had to hire an officer to monitor the grounds from the opening of the doors on a Sunday to the closing of services, which may be costly. In other instances, some leaders use their platform to project controversial political agendas, and end up oppressing people they intend to serve.   

Stigmas on mental health and physical health intertwined with communities of color persist. Navigating code switching, imposter syndrome, balancing psychological safety, racial stereotypes, food insecurity, homelessness, battling the bias of professionalism, rising inflation and stagnating wages, and the current political climate affect the mental welfare of Black and Brown communities. These mental impacts can create a downward spiral on a person’s health, increasing stress hormones, particularly in African American men, which can result in high blood pressure or prostate cancer. African American suicide rates continue to rise between the ages 18-35. 

Communities of color have made great strides in American society. But the old adage still stands: one can make one step forward and take two steps back. The progress that was made toward a more perfect union has been threatened in the  swaying pendulum between a perceived ideal of democracy and the actual practices of democracy. Triggering anxiety subdues a person’s mind during election seasons as we wonder how civil rights may be rolled back for the benefit of the privileged few. There has to be a bold stand and declaration for change with the belief that we shall overcome, someday.