“Our Black-White jobless gap worst in the nation,” a recent Star Tribune headline read. “Worst in the Nation” stood out like a neon sign. The article pointed out that in 2009 over 20 percent of all Black folks in Minnesota were unemployed, while only 6.6 percent of Whites were unemployed. The article seemed to imply that the nearly 14-percent gap may have come about through some kind of unfairness. But that can’t be; this is liberal Minnesota — or is it?
What these somewhat frightening statistics reveal is that talk does not necessarily equal walk. And while many people like to brag about how different the racial atmosphere is in Minnesota, these stats, as well as other misery index indicators, say otherwise.
In other words, the same kinds of inequities that exist elsewhere exist here as well.
Now, of course, there will be those who will find a way to blame this disparity on the victims. But the gap is far too large to chalk it up to lazy and trifling Negroes. To the contrary, it reveals that institutional practices of discrimination, such as racial profiling and unequal public education, continue to have consequences — even after the initial consequence.
Statistics continue to show that a much larger percentage of Whites uses and deals illegal drugs. But drug enforcement is focused upon primarily in the Black community. The results are more and more Blacks and other people of color are subsequently disqualified for jobs.
No doubt, as Michelle Alexander revealed in her book, The New Jim Crow, having a criminal record allows employers to legally discriminate.
Yet another mitigating factor in explaining the employment disparity, according to the Strib article, is lack of a high school diploma. Too many Black young people have entered the job market without one.
Ironically, dropping out of high school is a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. Many Black kids don’t believe there is a place for them in this society, even in its job market. So they drop out. It doesn’t make sense to many of us more rational folks. But it does have its own logic: “Why try,” they say, “if I am going to fail anyway?” It is tempting to criticize these kids for giving up.
However, we too have given up in the fight against racism and inequality. We tell ourselves we can’t win, so that we don’t have to fight. We convince ourselves that God ordained it this way. So the best we can do is look out for ourselves. The best we can do is get our souls right. But the best way to purify our souls is to get our hands dirty.
So we could say that all we need to do is keep our noses clean, get a diploma, get a degree and then we’re set. Not quite. The article also explained that “Blacks with education equal to that of Whites were still more likely to be unemployed.” Clearly that puts a wrench in the self-flagellation and victim blaming.
Shawn Lewis of the St. Paul Foundation gets to the crux of the matter when he said in the same article, “Minnesotans like to believe that they are progressive people, that they don’t have any biases, that they treat people fairly. In reality, that is not the situation.”
While most folks bemoan remedies like quotas, it appears that when the majority is left to its own it hires its own. Ironically, Whites seem to get upset when Black folks congregate together or have their own Black events or Black places. But Whites in power think nothing of it when they only pick their own for their team.
And when searching for solutions and answers, the Black community has to find a way to pool the resources it possesses. Yes, a little old-fashioned self-help is in order as well. Surely churches and social institutions can come up with creative ways to create jobs. I don’t have the formula. There isn’t a magical formula, but somebody, somewhere, in some institution, ought to do something.
Clearly this also calls for those with the ability to hire to do the “right thing.” This obvious injustice can be remedied if employers think beyond themselves and pour out the milk of human kindness.
And if we can’t get folks to just do the right thing, then we will have to do a little cajoling. That will mean then we will have to trade our house shoes for marching shoes.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.