Talking About Race in America, Part 4
A notably encouraging story this week is NASCAR, which two weeks ago banned the Confederate flag from its racing events. This past Monday a noose was discovered hanging in the Talladega, Alabama racetrack garage space assigned to Bubba Wallace, the black racecar driver who had complained about the pervasive presence of Confederate flags at NASCAR events. In response, all 39 drivers racing in the Talladega event participated in a symbolic show of support for Wallace by pushing his car down the track to the starting line. In response, Wallace climbed out of his car in tears to hug his fellow drivers. This is a very hopeful indication of changing racial attitudes, even though the FBI later determined that the noose had not been placed with malicious intent. A ray of sunshine in the storm.
I want to focus my remarks today on the economic obstacles which confront black Americans. Earlier this week I was listening to a talk by Yale School of Management Dean Kerwin Charles, who said that 30% of prime-aged black men ages 24-55 are not in the labor force. This is double the comparable rate for white men. That is astounding! Think of what white America’s economic condition would be if 30% of prime-aged white men were not in the labor force. Dean Charles also said that 6 million black men ages 18-24 with high school diplomas are neither enrolled in college nor working, which foreshadows another generation of lost economic opportunity for many young black men.
Also, this week the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the most prominent lobbyists for business interests, issued a report on black opportunity gaps stating that the unemployment rate for black Americans has been twice that of white Americans for the last four decades, and nearly twice as many black workers are in the lowest-earning occupations as white workers. These economic facts describe never-ending Great Depression conditions for black America, and ongoing destruction of black families.
I think America should focus the same determination and resources on ending these conditions in black America as was marshalled by President Franklin Roosevelt to end comparable conditions in white America in the 1930’s. The answer is for the federal government to hire these men in job training programs and public works projects, just as was done in the 1930’s when the Works Progress Administration hired more than 8.5 million men, mostly unskilled, to carry out public works projects. Major corporations should partner with the government to design and implement job training programs, with apprenticeship employment opportunities for those who complete training. Creating opportunities for these black men to earn a paycheck is the first step in restoring their dignity and sense of self-worth. It’s the first step in helping them to rebuild their lives and their families.
America knows how to do this. America has done this before. What are we waiting for?