Sadly, racial stereotypes about the African-American community abound. But new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in light of Black History Month 2012 challenges a number of harmful perceptions about African Americans. For example, more blacks are in college now than at any other time in U.S. history. Moreover, blacks, who fought to exercise their right to vote during the turbulent 1960s, take civic engagement seriously. Blacks of all ages visit the polls in such large numbers that they’re overrepresented among voters in many cases. Although the economic recession that began in late 2007 hit African Americans especially hard, black businesses are booming. All in all, the facts the Census Bureau has highlighted about the black population signify how “the story of African Americans is a story of resilience and perseverance,” as President Barack Obama noted while proclaiming February 2012 National African American History Month.
Black and Educated
About three million blacks were enrolled in a college or a university as of the 2010 census. That represents a rise of 1.7 million, or more than 50 percent, since 1990. To boot, the overwhelming majority of African Americans do finish high school. Eighty-two percent of blacks age 25 and up possessed at least a high school diploma in 2010. Immigrant blacks are especially ambitious with regards to finishing high school. A New York Times analysis of immigrant students between the years of 2005 and 2009 revealed that students of Jamaican and Guyanese origin boasted a high school graduation rate of 96 percent, the highest in the city. That’s quite a feat considering that New York remains by far the nation’s largest city. Blacks are making ground in higher education as well, with 18 percent of African Americans having bachelor’s degrees in 2010 and 1.5 million having advanced degrees.
The Right to Vote
It’s no secret that African Americans struggled to vote during the Jim Crow era. White supremacists, poll taxes, literacy tests and more all served to disenfranchise black voters during that time. Thanks to the work of civil rights activists, the federal government passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discrimination against voters. Several decades later, African Americans are exercising their right to vote in unprecedented numbers. The Census Bureau reports that 65 percent of blacks voted in the 2008 presidential election, a 5 percent rise from 2004. Young black voters flexed their muscle during the 2008 election as well with a 55 percent turnout rate among 18- to 24-year-olds. That’s an eight percent jump from 2004. The momentum of black voters didn’t slow down in 2010, with 11 million African Americans (12 percent of the U.S. electorate) voting in the congressional election that year.
An Economic Portrait
The U.S. recession that kicked off in 2007 hurt the already economically vulnerable black community. In 2010, the yearly median income of African American households hovered slightly above $32,000, a 3.2 percent drop from 2009, according to the Census Bureau. While the wealth of black households declined during the recession, black businesses have enjoyed a different fate. In 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, receipts for black-owned businesses amounted to $135.7 billion. That’s an increase of 53.1 percent from five years earlier. Not only did receipts for black businesses rise so did the number of such businesses overall. In 2007, 1.9 million black-owned businesses existed, a rise of 60.5 percent from 2002.
A Return to the South
In the early 20th century, legions of blacks exited the American South in search of job opportunities and a life uncolored by racial discrimination. One hundred years later, blacks have returned to the South in large numbers. Higher proportions of the black population live in Southern states than elsewhere. The six states with the largest percentages of African Americans are each located below the Mason-Dixon Line. In 2010, blacks made up 38 percent of Mississippi, 33 percent of Louisiana, 32 percent of Georgia, 31 percent of Maryland, 29 percent of South Carolina and 27 percent of Alabama.
Blacks in the Military
The history of black military service can be traced back to the American Revolution. Films such as “Glory” and “Red Tails” highlight the contributions blacks made during the Civil War and World War II, respectively. Given blacks’ long history of military service, it’s not surprising that African Americans comprise a large number of U.S. military veterans. In 2010, the number of black veterans totaled 2.4 million, the Census Bureau reported.