This month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its unemployment data for the month of May. The unemployment rate for the African American community went up from 16.1 percent to 16.2 percent. Black males, who already had the highest unemployment rate of any ethnic/gender category, saw their joblessness rise from an astounding 17 percent last month to 17.5 percent this month.
While white unemployment has declined since May of last year (8.5 percent to 8.0 percent), black unemployment has risen (15.3 percent to 16.2 percent). Black teenagers also saw their unemployment rate rise over the last year (38.4 percent to 40.7 percent). White teens, on the other hand, had a sharp decline in their unemployment rate (25.1 percent to 20.7 percent).
These astonishing numbers take us back to the statement made two years ago by President Barack Obama with regard to black unemployment. When journalist April Ryan did a wonderful job of pushing the black unemployment issue to the president, the baffling talking point of the Obama Administration was that “the rising tide will lift all boats,” implying that engaging in policy for the entire country would magically heal the effects of racial inequality in the job market. The translation was: “Sure black people gave us 18 percent of our votes, but you don’t deserve more than two percent of our time.”
The problem for the Obama Administration is that the “rising tide” logic might make sense on water, but it doesn’t add up in the real world. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like Trickle Down Economics, endorsed by the Reagan Administration nearly 30 years go. Economic trickles don’t work between the rich and the poor and they certainly don’t work on matters of race. This truth has been established repeatedly with the worsening unemployment numbers we keep seeing every single month.
One has to ask this question: Just how high does the black unemployment rate have to be before the Obama Administration and Congress reconsider their policies against engaging in targeted action on behalf of black and brown communities? If the unemployment rate were 20 percent, would that convince them that there is a problem? What about 25 percent? Perhaps there is some hidden law against advocating for people of color?
What makes me saddest is that one only speculates that there is almost no unemployment rate for black men or women that would make any group of elected officials in Washington feel compelled to realize that there might be a problem. In contrast, when whites were screaming about nine percent unemployment, they were given the attention of a newborn baby. That, my friends, is White Supremacy 101.
Given that African Americans are taxpayers too, one has to admit that perhaps our tax dollars are not getting back to us. Wall Street gets massive bailouts and other constituencies have their issues addressed by Washington politicians. But the glaring silence by elected officials on any matter having to do with race is both symptomatic of political cowardice and also a reflection of a society that is so blind with racism that it feels compelled to deliberately penalize any politician who chooses to address racial inequity.
In light of the fact that the US government decided to boycott the United Nations World Conference on Racism, one must truly ask if the United States is in denial. Perhaps we are convinced that cosmetic changes, like electing a bi-racial president or honoring Black Music Appreciation Month can override the deep social cleansing necessary to deal with a 400-year old problem.
What’s most interesting about Washington politicians is that solving the problem is never as great of a concern as who gets blamed for the problem. Well, rather than simply blaming President Obama, we can do what makes sense: Blame everyone who is not doing all they can to achieve a solution. This might mean dealing with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Obama Administration, The Justice Department, Congress, the Senate, black community leadership and ourselves to determine whether or not we are demanding that our tax dollars be put to work by helping black men and women find gainful employment.
There must come a time when everyone is held accountable, and all political loyalties are put on the table for negotiation. If someone is not doing their job in advocating for the African American community, then black folks have no reason to support that official. The accountability certainly starts at the top, but it must spread to any and all of us who have the ability to access federal and community resources. Such devastation cannot be allowed to continue and being silent is no longer an option.