America isn’t an easy country.
If you fall down, you’ll mostly get a lot of people trying not to make eye contact with you as you panhandle on the street. The fall can be even harsher if you’re African American—when your time on the street probably came with a stint in prison. But it’s not all doom and gloom for every black person in America. In fact, quite a few of us are doing pretty awesome despite a little problem like “institutionalized racism.” Why are many African Americans doing better? It could come down to one word.
Location. Location. Location.
We took a look at the worst states for black people, so by popular demand, I put on my research hat again to find the best states for black people. While some may be shocked to learn of any stateside safe haven, there are some—as long as you like either living in the extremes or elbowing your way through black college grads as they sip mimosas at white parties in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.
Hawaii has a lot of things going for it. It’s a gorgeous tropical paradise. Shockingly, marijuana isn’t legal (except on a limited basis for medical use), despite the fact that everyone seems unnaturally chill all the time. It’s also the home state of President Barack Obama, and once you look at its statistics on race, you can see why Hawaii was the first state to produce the nation’s first black president.
The most racially diverse state in the union, Hawaii is ranked by the Ann E. Casey Foundation as the best state for raising black children. The foundation based its ranking on a statistical study of socioeconomic status, access to education and home life.
Hawaii’s incarceration rate for black people is astronomically lower than the national average. With Wisconsin—one of the worst states for black Americans—locking up African Americans to the tune of 4,416 for every 100,000 black people, Hawaii is much more proportional, imprisoning 851 for every 100,000 black Hawaiians (pdf). The national average for black imprisonment is 2,290 per 100,000. No wonder the president, who’s written about some youthful indiscretions involving pot, managed to toke it and not end up with a record, unlike so many other young black men throughout the United States. Obama grew up in the right state at the right time. Also, black people in Hawaii? They’re not broke. The state has the highest black household income at $66,629.
I told you, you’d have to like living in the extremes. We go from the tropics to the tundra: Alaska is a surprising place to find that you may fare better than most. Up in the frozen north, black Americans boast average earnings of $51,780 per year, and the state of winter wonderlands is also the fourth-best place to raise a black child, according to the Casey Foundation study.
The state with the fourth-highest number of African Americans with bachelor’s degrees or higher also has sun, surf and Hollywood. When not being home to all your favorite (or most hated, depending on your taste) reality shows that don’t take place in Atlanta, California also holds the title as the second-most-diverse state in the U.S.
Although Maryland catches a lot of grief for being the setting for The Wire, the reality for a lot of black Marylanders is less Stringer Bell and more George Jefferson. Maryland boasts the country’s highest rates of black homeownership and of blacks holding advanced degrees. Twenty-six percent of black Marylanders have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Blacks in Maryland also make a lot more money than black people in other states (the average income is $57,907) and live in some of the wealthiest black communities in the country—including Friendly, Bowie, Fort Washington, Mitchellville and Kettering—where the median income is between $89,500 and $110,000. It has the fifth-highest graduation rate for black high schoolers and ranks as the sixth-best place to raise your black child.
With a median black household income of $46,818, New Hampshire looks like a great place to live. The high school graduation rate is 76 percent for black students—the fifth highest in the nation—and New Hampshire also ranks second, behind Hawaii, as the best place to raise a black child.