Marc Morial views 2022 as a consequential inflection point in the United States’ fight for racial justice. In the two years since the police murder of George Floyd, Morial said there are areas for hope in the equality movement, particularly in the federal government. But Morial, who’s helmed the National Urban League since 2003, also said there’s reason for caution. “There's an ugly and nasty backlash in certain quarters of the country that is manifesting itself as an anti-democratic backlash,” Morial said.
“I’ve seen the change. America is a different place. But that notwithstanding, the movement by the extremists and the far right to push back is dangerous and it threatens the real, meaningful progress we’ve made. We’ve got so much more that we have to do.”
Marc Morial views 2022 as a consequential inflection point in the United States’ fight for racial justice. In the two years since the police murder of George Floyd, Morial said there are major advancements in the equity movement, particularly in the White House.
“What encourages me is the strong commitment of many, including President Biden, who has underscored racial justice as one of his guiding principles for his administration,” Morial told us. “He has taken some very important steps in how he’s staffed up, some very important steps in how he has made appointments to his cabinet, to the Supreme Court, to the vice presidency.”
On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order launching a “whole-of-government” effort to significantly increase and expand equity efforts within the administration.
But Morial, who has led the National Urban League since 2003, also said there’s reason for caution.
“There are some who made early commitments who are already showing signs of retrenchment,” Morial said.
“And then, there’s an ugly and nasty backlash in certain quarters of the country that is manifesting itself as an anti-democratic backlash. An effort to suppress the vote, an effort to marginalize and dilute the votes and the voices of people of color, African Americans, Latinos and others,” he added.
Combating this backlash, Morial says, is critical to making sure the promises made during the racial reckoning of 2020 are kept.
Morial compared America’s path toward equality to a pendulum:
“It swings one way, and then pushes back the other way. Where sometimes it’s the phenomenon of several steps forward, and then several steps backward. All happening, indeed, at the same time.”
This swinging pendulum has been omnipresent in Morial’s life. Born “in the waning days of segregation,” Morial grew up attending integrated schools in New Orleans, before serving two terms as the city’s mayor from 1994 to 2002.
“I grew up in a period of hope, but also a period of conflict and danger,” Morial said.
Morial graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with degrees in economics and African American studies and holds a law degree from Georgetown University. Now as president and CEO of one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations, Morial said he sees this same dichotomy playing out in 2022.
“I’ve seen the change. America is a different place,” he said. “But that notwithstanding, the movement by the extremists and the far right to push back is dangerous and it threatens the real meaningful progress we’ve made. We’ve got so much more that we have to do.”
Earlier this month, Morial attended a White House summit focused on how to stop the hate-fueled violence. In 2020, the FBI reported hate crimes had reached their highest level in over a decade. Hate crimes also rose in major cities in the first half of 2022, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.
Morial derided the “rise in hate crimes, the use of violence, voter suppression, the vilification of equity, the effort to block the telling of the truth and the teaching of Black history” as hiding “under the guise of some sort of anti-[Critical Race Theory] movement.”
“All of these things, however, are not a new movie, but an old movie,” Morial said.
“This is exactly how those opposed to the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education reacted. They reacted with howls of interposition and nullification, Southern resistance and states’ rights. There’s an eerie sameness to this, if you will, reactionary movement,” he added.
Nonetheless, Morial said the activism of young people gives him hope that the reactionary movement can be defeated. Morial credits young Americans for taking on a new role in the social justice movement by voting, protesting and finding their voices following Floyd’s death.
“I see young people with a great sense of passion, and a great sense of commitment, and a great sense of desire for a more racially-inclusive future,” Morial said. “That excites me.”
Inclusion in the business world is one of Morial’s major focuses. At the National Urban League, Morial is deeply invested in ensuring corporations maintain their commitment to equity.
Morial noted that the public sector is not the only arena where the fight for racial equity is playing out. Morial’s background as a politician and nonprofit leader grants him a unique perspective for counseling the private sector on how to facilitate change.
“If you see a company whose CEO, whose board is absolutely committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and really wants to make progress, you see progress,” Morial said. “If you see a leader who thinks it’s an HR department matter, or even others who think it’s more about public relations, or compliance, I’ll show you a company that is destined to fail in this work and in this mission.”
Despite the backlash and retrenchment Morial detailed, he said the fight to achieve equity will continue undeterred.
“I want to send the strongest possible message that those of us who are on the frontlines, and have been on the frontlines, will not give up nor give in,” Morial said. “We will continue to work and we will continue to fight because the direction of the moral arc is going to bend towards racial justice. It always has, and it always will.”
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