Historic Black Census Project Focuses Specifically On Concerns of Black People

More than 31,000 Black people across the United States completed a historic survey focused entirely on Black issues. The results are in. 

By Chanda Burrage

I’m coming off a major high from spending time this week at Myrtle Beach with 30 plus amazing Black sistas at the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle (STLC) retreat. We came together, for a ‘mountain top’ experience that sought to remove us from our everyday experiences as community and family caregivers and targets of racial, income and environmental injustice. The retreat was grounded in STLC founder, Lisa Anderson’s vision “to love Blackness and ourselves and each other as Black people hard and well.”

While we were together, a historic survey was released that shines a light on the marginalization as well as the resiliency of the Black community. Titled, More Black Than Blue: Politics and Power in the 2019 Black Census, The Black Census Project was conducted in 2018, and is a national survey focused entirely on Black people – a segment of society that is expected to play a crucial role in the 2020 election cycle. The project’s home is the Black Futures Lab, initiated by Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza in an attempt to transform Black communities into constituencies that change the way power operates—locally, statewide and nationally. The organization’s Black Census Project “aims to set the record straight” as “Black people are often spoken about or spoken for, but Black people are rarely listened to.”

“Black people are often spoken about or spoken for, but Black people are rarely listened to.”

Tens of thousands of Black people were surveyed by 30 grassroots and civil rights organizations, including Auburn Seminary. As the report explains:

“…the Black Census utilized unique survey collection methods that drew on robust online networks and sent local organizers into Black businesses, churches, libraries, barbershops and other community gathering places from North Carolina to Nevada, providing a rare and important opportunity to hear and learn from voices often at the margins of America’s political debate.”

I couldn’t wait to share the online survey with the folks in my circle, which included my cousins, aunties, uncles and church members of the Baptist church that my father pastors in North Carolina

After learning about the project in November, 2018, I couldn’t wait to share the online survey with the folks in my circle, which included my cousins, aunties, uncles and church members of the Baptist church that my father pastors in North Carolina, as well as my students at CUNY Medgar Evers College here in New York City. The survey process itself provided a tremendous opportunity to discuss issues related to income disparity, criminal justice, and America’s troubled electoral process. Not entirely surprisingly, nearly 60 percent of the Black Census respondents were Black women – a group that is often taken for granted but remain a critical component of political and electoral organizing in Black communities.

As my experience with my sisters in the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle confirmed, Black women are the authors of getting stuff done and making the impossible happen. So upon sharing the survey with my people, it was the women who consistently stepped up to promote the cause and share the survey in their communities. As a direct result of my sharing the survey, a woman at my dad’s church decided to start a Social Justice ministry to directly connect the congregation with the social justice movements in the church’s community.

Unlike other surveys of Black voters, the Black Census survey intentionally focused on Black communities that are often left out of mainstream polling, including younger people, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

Nearly half (48 percent) of Black census respondents reported living in a household that lacked enough funds to pay a monthly bill in the last 12 months.

One of the key findings includes economic issues around low wages. Nearly half (48 percent) of Black census respondents reported living in a household that lacked enough funds to pay a monthly bill in the last 12 months.

“Pay discrimination is a very real barrier to economic security: Black workers are paid 16.2 percent less than white workers even after gender, education, age, and geography are taken into account, and wage gaps for Black women are even greater.” (Economic Policy Institute 2019).

The findings correspond with my experience as a Black woman, as well as with the Black women in my circles and, of course, the nation as a whole. Too often, Black people in America lack of quality health care, live in substandard housing, suffer from rising college costs and experience different sets of rules for the wealthy and the poor. The results are crystal clear that Black people want to see the restoration of the voting rights of family, friends, and community members who have returned from prison. Lastly, as a mother and wife, I, along with the majority of respondents, also want to see an end to gun violence, as well as the seemingly intractable problems of unjust policing that leads to police killings and brutality toward Black people.

As a mother and wife, I, along with the majority of respondents, also want to see an end to gun violence, as well as the seemingly intractable problems of unjust policing

When the survey was complete, those of us who were facilitators came together to celebrate the fact that WE DID THIS! I was especially geeked to meet and dance with Alicia Garza, the Black Futures Lab team and other national partners at the Black Census party. We partied like it was 1999 in Atlanta because we each had a part in helping produce the first Black Census conducted since Reconstruction. A fact that is shocking and a doggone shame.

We each had a part in helping produce the first Black Census conducted since Reconstruction. A fact that is shocking and a doggone shame.

The Black Census Project is a good starting point for unpacking the real needs and concerns of Black people all over the country. At the same time, in addition to over-sampling the LGBTQ community, I would love to see a 2.0 version that more comprehensively seeks out Black people living and functioning in America’s rural, military and multi-faith places and spaces.

As for the upcoming 2020 elections, hopefully, candidates will use the data collected to not only engage with the Black community but also do their part in helping us address the matters that concern us the most. Alicia Garza said it best in this week’s NYT’s opinion piece, “I always cringe when I see candidates eating fried chicken next to a bottle of hot sauce in Harlem or taking staged photos with black leaders.” We deserve so much more than a photo opp.

It’s promising that America is waking up to the fact that the Black demographic, particularly Black women, are a valued force – not to be ignored – if we want a stronger, more resilient future.

Chanda Burrage is a Research Fellow at Auburn Seminary, professor at City College of New York – Medgar Evers College, and co-founder with her husband Ronnie Burrage – an accomplished jazz percussionist and composer – of World Rhythm Academy. @ChandaBurrage

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Auburn Seminary is aiming to intentionally NOT ignore Black people, but rather transform Black lives and communities through its STLC, Future Story, Reproductive Justice programs, along with efforts to form a multi-faith coalition to End Mass Incarceration across the country. You can join one of these movement spaces now by joining us at our national Ending Mass Incarceration conference in Atlanta, June 17-19, 2019.

Those in proximity to NYC can also join us on June 12th at 6 pm for Auburn Conversations. At this event, those who are formerly-incarcerated will use storytelling and conversation to show how and why people of faith ought to include ending mass incarceration in their work for justice. This is one of many ways to highlight the complexity of Black issues and challenge the long-held assumptions about Black lives.

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