What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I was unemployed and desperately looking for a job. I quit an adequate paying job without benefits and in a very expensive part of the country for something better for my family. My family and I made the decision to move from Idaho to Missouri. But we didn’t exactly have a place to stay. I had to borrow from my mom to put money down on an apartment and get utilities turned on. We had no health insurance. In order to make ends meet I worked as a day laborer in a plastics factory. We didn’t have an oven or a refrigerator, but we had a deep freezer, a microwave, and a George Foreman grill.
In the past year I was able to find a job as a systems analyst consultant. The first thing we did with our new income was to pay back my mom. Once we paid mom off we saved enough money to buy the refrigerator and stove. We then saved enough money to buy a slightly used Chrysler minivan. After a number of months as a consultant, the company made me an offer to become a permanent employee. That was sweet. It’s been years since benefits were actually part of my pay package. And we continued to save enough money to buy an abandoned house from the city for cash. We will soon be debt free home owners. What a difference a year makes.
While I was looking for a job, I went through a number of interviews with a number of companies only to be dismissed after making a face to face appearance. It was obvious that the determining factor for me not getting the job was that, visually speaking, I was not what they were looking for. And since the only difference between the people I was meeting and myself, other than I was unemployed and they had a job, was that I was black. I have no doubt that I was a victim of racial prejudices.
But even with twenty years of database application development and maintenance experience and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, combined with the cleanest of criminal records without even the slightest hint of a blemish, never in my life did I consider myself entitled to a handout. Never once have I said I deserved employment. Never once have I mentioned that I wanted a handout. And yet, many people who visit my website, who read my arguments and disagree with my views on the relationship between the black community and the racially generic dominant community that is coincidentally predominantly white, will dismiss me as wanting to do nothing but blame white people for all the problems in the black community, while waiting for an undeserved, unwarranted, never put forth an effort, handout.
In the past year, I’ve done a lot of reading of other websites that focus on the disparity between the black community and the dominant community. And not one of these bloggers ever wrote anything saying that they deserved something for nothing or that black people deserved something for nothing. I have never read an article that said white people are to blame for everything that happens in the black community and black people are without fault. I have never read anything that said black people are powerless. But these are the type of arguments that are regularly dumped on bloggers who are able to see and understand a different perspective of the problems of the black community that are much deeper than the rhetoric that black people just need to work harder.
Black people can do everything right and still be unfit for an employment opportunity. On one of the episodes of Black in America with Soledad O’Brien, a statistic was displayed on the screen that helps to put this circumstance into factual perspective. According to Devah Pager, an associate professor of sociology at Princeton University, a white man with a degree and no criminal record will get called back from a job interview thirty four percent of the time while his black counterpart will get called back only fifteen percent of the time. If that disparity isn’t bad enough, a white man with no degree and a criminal record will be called back seventeen percent of the time. A slight advantage, but an advantage nevertheless, over the no record and degreed black job seeker.
But the facts have no place in this contentious debate over who is ultimately responsible for the despicable conditions of the black community. Black people in America are fortunate they aren’t in Zimbabwe. It’s easy to complain but people who talk about being a victim need a plan. The last thing black people need to hear is another white people done did us wrong song. But if I may, it appears that’s exactly what some black people need to hear.
So many black people are caught up in the myth that if black people simply got an education and worked hard then the black community will be free to recover some margin of its dignity and/or worth. But if every black man, woman, and child, were to obtain at minimum an associate’s degree tomorrow, it would be foolish to think that there would be a sudden drop in black unemployment or an uptick in respect for people in the black community or that every last black person would have a job the day after. If back in the day of the institutionalized enslavement of black people, every field picker showed up on master’s porch with a tuxedo and white gloves, it might look nice, but somebody’s going back out in that field in his tuxedo and white gloves to work some hard labor. The dominant community only needs so many black people out of the job market.
The black community needs to come to a collective realization that not all of us are free to participate in the world of the dominant culture. Some of us will be allowed to make it. Most of us won’t. That’s not a victim mentality. It is a fact. We can dismiss it as nothing more than some black people wanting a handout. But the idea of black people wanting jobs is no different than any other race of people wanting jobs. The idea that black people want an education is no different than any other race of people wanting an education. Black people should not be made to feel that somehow we are different and we are to be considered separate and we are not equal participants in our national social construct.
Until all of us realize this and come together to work as a unit for the betterment of the black community we will never be taken seriously. It might sound like little more than another white people done us wrong song. But until more of us start listening and learning to sing it so that our collective voice can be heard over the din of all the racialized rhetoric being made, it is a song I am more than happy to sing even if I have to do it alone. Black people can cross every T and dot every I and still not be accepted. All the cleaning up and straigtening up in the world won’t dispel this unfortunate fact.