It is pointless and indeed dangerous to discuss the plethora of problems facing black Americans without using the word racism. The practice of ignoring this enormous elephant in the room has always been the country’s fallback position and it has all worsened ever since Barack Obama became president.
Last week the New York Times published an article about the dismal employment prospects of black men and women in New York City. Less than half of all black adults in that city are working, a figure worse than for whites, Asians or Latinos. The rates for unemployment, underemployment, and duration of unemployment between jobs are all higher for black people than for any other group. While providing important information, the Times article undid any benefit it may have provided because it never broached the subject of race discrimination and the role it plays in keeping black people at the bottom of the economic heap.
By now everyone knows about the studies which show that people with first or last names identified as African American are less likely to be called for interviews. Similar studies show that hypothetical white convicted felons are more likely to be hired than black people with no criminal record. The studies and the hidden camera exposes almost make the case, but skirt the real issue.
Racism is still the number one modus operandi by which this country functions. It is a permanent part of the thinking of most white people and results in low rates for anything good like employment, and high rates of everything bad, like incarceration. The unwillingness to address the question of the persistence of racial animus practiced against black people leads to very dangerous dynamics.
If an issue is never discussed, it ceases to exist in the public and political consciousness. Even worse, anyone who dares bring up the topic designated as unspeakable is treated as if they don’t exist either, or as if their very sanity is in question. Pointing out that racism is still very much alive is akin to pointing out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. The nakedness is there for all to see, but only the bravest will dare mention it.
Of course most white people are happier when they don’t acknowledge the privileges they have as a result of their skin color, so they are happy to say nothing. Asians and Latinos may face racism in their lives too, but it is never to the same extent as for black people. In other words, members of these groups have little interest in pointing out the reality of the black person‘s existence in this country.
The effect on black people is the saddest of all. This supposed meritocracy in which we are exhorted to pull ourselves up by mythical boot straps creates an awful cognitive dissonance for those black people who follow all of the right rules but yet find their situations lacking. They earn college degrees and they don’t break the law, but success eludes them time and again. Some succumb to self blame and take out the anger they should direct at the system onto themselves. Only one of the black job seekers interviewed in the New York Times stated that race was a factor in her continued inability to secure a full time job.
Black people are now in the worst of all possible worlds. If read online, the New York Times article shares space with the endless and annoying Barack Obama campaign ads. “Tell Michelle you’re all in” or “Dinner with Barack, we’ll cover your air fare.” The presence of a president who is black is used to quiet any mention of black demands on the system. We don’t need to make any demands because president Barack Obama is supposedly proof of a post-racial reality.
Of course this black man is president in large part because he doesn’t identify with the political aspirations of black people. He famously said there is no black America or white America, and the degree to which he was embraced by millions of black people only adds to the denial of the severity of our situation.
High unemployment persists for black people in New York and elsewhere not just because they are over represented in failing industries or public sector jobs. Their very presence is not wanted, and when the economy changes as it has in recent years, and puts raw capitalism in the driver’s seat, the suffering is severe.
If the New York Times is willing to put its resources to good use, it ought to point out those simple facts. That would be news fit to print.