Obama’s programs to address African-American unemployment are dependent on white philanthropy and goodwill; they don’t address the root problem of white racism, says Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. And thank you for joining us for the Glen Ford report.
Today, Glen will be shedding some deeper light on the recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, November unemployment figures. The Bureau last week reported that unemployment is at a six-month low at 5.8 percent. The economy also achieved a record-breaking 15 months of payroll growth.
But what does all this mean for African Americans?
Joining us now from Plainfield, New Jersey, to discuss this is Glen Ford. Glen is the cofounder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report.
Thank you for joining us, Glen.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Always. Thank you for the opportunity.
PERIES: So, Glen, if more people are employed this month than they were last month, isn’t that a good thing?
FORD: It’s always a good thing when people are employed when compared to the alternative of not being employed and not having any social benefits, such as unemployment. Our particular job is to look at relative levels of employment and wages.
And I think that the national conversation, when it comes to black unemployment, is framed incorrectly. We constantly–we have always heard that term intractable, that black unemployment levels are intractable, as if nothing can be done about them. And although it is true that the ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment hardly moves from–to the one, it’s been like that since I was a very, very, very young man.
What’s intractable about that is white racism. And the basic fundamental indicator that we are talking about white racism is the fact that black high school graduates are more likely to be unemployed than white high school dropouts. And therefore we have to conclude that the crying social need is not for more education, although education is good in itself, but what we need is ways–that is, real policies–that get around this intractable white racism, which presents itself as a constant barrier to black employment in good times and in bad times. And we have to note that the good times are already gone. And that means getting or finding ways to increase black opportunities for employment outside of the private sector, because that is where the ability of white folks to exercise white supremacist whims and other manifestations of white racism have the most leeway.
President Obama offers us only, at this stage, his my brother’s keeper scheme, which is not a program, a federal program, a jobs program at all, but is totally dependent on white corporate charity and philanthropy and goodwill. And white goodwill is precisely what is chronically missing in U.S. society and creates the conditions for intractable black unemployment.
PERIES: Let’s talk about what could bring about a greater employment rate in the black community. What are the some of the strategies that they should be engaged in?
FORD: Well, we see from history–let’s always go back to the facts that we already note because we’ve experienced them, that blacks have encountered the biggest opportunities for employment and for advancement on the job in the public sector. That’s why there are such high rates of black participation in, for example, the post office and in public employment, because it is in those arenas that white racism has–where there’s an environment where individual racisms don’t come so much into play in hiring and firing. So let’s continue to look at the public sector.
What we need and what black folks demanded until the election of 2008, when President Obama presented himself, what we need is a Marshall Plan for the cities with a huge employment component. That is what has proven to work for black folks in the past, and that’s what we need now.
PERIES: So, Glen, in addition to the kinds of programs that could be a part of addressing the problem in terms of the black community, there’s also a endemic culture of people feeling that they’re not really employable in the African-American community. How could we address that?
FORD: Well, you know, we really do need to talk about how unemployment is actually experienced in the black community if we’re going to talk about describing the culture that results or of correcting the situation. When you have endemic unemployment in the community, that means that people in your peer group, if you’re a young person, people around your age are of almost no use in helping you to find a job because they have no idea where the job openings exist. But it also means that your parents and the older people in the neighborhood probably have no idea where the job market is opening and looking better at.
About half of the black males who do have jobs work in the low-wage sector. And that means that these older black men are actually in competition with younger people coming into or wanting to enter the workforce for these entry-level jobs. And it’s been like that for a very long time. Let me just say that when I was very young and living in Columbus, Georgia, there were no paper boys. They were paper men. Men were delivering the newspapers. Some of them had families. So this is something of long standing in poor communities.
So, once peer groups in these communities of endemic high unemployment only have experience in directing and helping you into the informal economy that people usually call crime and drugs and such, and the outside community, white folks, described the result as a culture of crime–but I don’t think that’s a culture of crime. I think that a better way to describe what we’re looking at is a matrix of resource opportunities in the black community that consistently point people down the path of criminal enterprise. That’s not a culture of criminality; that’s a political economy of racist exclusion under a kind of neoliberalism that makes all practical employment opportunities actually less attractive than the informal economy. That requires real substantive, programmatic help, and not criticism about people’s cultures and such.
PERIES: Glen, I thank you for raising these points, and I really would like to continue this discussion with you. So I’m going to issue a challenge. So the next interview we’re going to be is going to be the ten-point strategy of Glen Ford for addressing unemployment in the African-American community.
FORD: Well, I hope I can get to ten, but maybe seven good ones will do.
PERIES: We’ll settle for that. Thank you so much for joining us, Glen.
FORD: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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