Jobs disparities contradict our self-image as a civilized nation



Fifty years ago there was a march for jobs and freedom. Is it time for another?




MellaneoussquareThis year will mark 50 years since that historic march on Washington. I find it ironic that 50 years later there is still the need for another march for jobs and freedom. There is especially a need for a jobs march.

The Twin Cities area is ranked as having the worst disparity in Black and White unemployment in the nation. Depending on what statistics you trust, some stats have shown the White unemployment rate to be as low as five percent and the Black unemployment rate to be as high as 20 percent. Another way of saying it is that Blacks are between three and four times as likely to be unemployed as a White person.

But you probably know this already. It seems everyone knows it.

It’s become more and more obvious that at some point, talking will not close the equity gap in Black and White unemployment. There have been all kinds of blue-ribbon committees launched. Every philanthropic organization has had a meeting about it. There are a myriad of groups talking about it. There is the Everybody In, the Itasca Project, Equity in Sight, Equity is Right, and the “Please give Negroes Jobs Conference”

Minneapolis Civil Rights Director Velma Korbel was quoted by a local TV station, KSTP Channel 5, as saying, ”If you are African American with a college degree, you are less likely to be employed than a White person with a criminal record.” Korbel was quoted for a segment that asked, “Does the Twin Cities have a hiring bias?” And of course the answer is obviously yes!

I understand that some would have the knee-jerk response of blaming the victim. But the disparity is too high to be able to lay the blame strictly at the feet of Black folks. Something in the fabric of Americana is amiss here.

Clearly this inequity undermines who we as Americans think we are as a nation. We brag about how advanced we are, and you can hear folks putting down the younger nations of the world that are clearly struggling with civil rights and even human rights. While we brag about how fair and democratic we are, this glaring unfairness does not fit.

And no one can say that Black folks haven’t paid in or contributed to the country. In fact Black folks pay taxes, too. We have provided leaders and leadership that attempted to shore up the country’s moral failures. It was Martin King, Jr. who tried to remind us all that we are tied together in this world in a web of mutual interdependence.

Moreover, the abundance of Harlem Shake videos is evidence of how America leans on Black folks for its pop culture. Think of any cool cultural nuance from the high five to even the dunk — Black folks did it first, and everyone else adopted it.

It’s obvious that the time for talking is long past. It’s time that folks put up or shut up. And keep in mind that if those who can provide jobs and insist on employing the Blacks-Not-Wanted line, they are saying something about themselves as well.

It may be saying that the folks who would lock Black folks out of the job market are just plain “tribal.” And everyone knows it doesn’t take any sophistication to just look out for your own kind. In fact, I think it says just the opposite, that one is actually primal rather than sophisticated. Even animals can look out for their own and their own kind.

Furthermore, it violates the Judeo-Christian principles some purport that this nation was built on. It violates the most basic of those creeds, which encourage humans to “do unto others as they would have done unto them.”

Ultimately, if this jobs gap isn’t closed, it’s going to reflect poorly on everyone, not just locked out Black folks. Because it’s going to say something about who we really are and what this country is really all about. Folks can’t keep making fun of Third World countries when this kind of narrow “tribalism” is allowed to continue unabated. If it’s not corrected, it would give the lie to the idea that we are somehow more civilized.

This gross injustice reminds me of Gandhi responding to the question of what he thought of Western Civilization. Gandhi said, “It would be a good idea.”


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