No Jobs, No Justice: The Black Unemployment Crisis

American Gothic
(Photo Credit :  Gordon Parks)

Give a (wo)man a fish and s/he will eat for a day
Teach a (wo)man to fish and s/he will eat for days
Teach your community to support themselves and you all eat for life

I live in the DC/Maryland/VA (DMV) area, where we boast one of the most highly educated populations in the country. Everything happens here. Want to go into politics? There’s something here for you. Want to teach in one of the nations largest labs for educational experimentation? There’s something here for YOU too. Do you just want to save the world…well you can do that here too, IF you have the papers and the relationships.

The reality for most Americans is not the reality many “Washingtonians” face. In fact as many of you know, unemployment rates are devastating communities across the country. Today over lunch with a friend I got extremely animated while talking about the rates of Black youth unemployment. Today I read the latest unemployment rates. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Black Americans are experiencing a 16% unemployment rate. That’s 16% of the Black civilian labor force. Now bear with me here.  Our total civilian labor force represents over 17,660,000 people.  This means that 2, 757,000 Black folks are unemployed as of November 2010. This number is derived from those who can legally work, seeking work, are not in the military and are not incarcerated.  So tack on nearly 900, 000 more for the Black men and women currently incarcerated (according to the Sentencing Project).  Prospects for unemployment are even more grim upon re-entry for ex-offenders.

How many of you know someone who makes barely enough to get by?  Underemployment isn’t something we often see vetted in national dialog. People across this country go to work everyday and barely make ends meet. Many of these people work more than one job.

I believe that at the end of the day, MOST people want to work and earn their own money. Given the current reality of our economy, many people simply cannot find work. Where did the jobs go and how do we get them back?

We need a truly inclusive progressive jobs movement.

This poses another natural question; who is the face of the jobs movement? Look around at the narratives we hear from the nations largest grassroots organizations. It’s about the factory worker whose manufacturing job was lost to off shoring in Indonesia. It’s about the former Chrysler worker how lost his/her job to a lack of innovation and corporate greed. Oh and lest I forget, the face has also become the young White female/male who can’t find a job EVEN WITH a fancy degree.  It’s not my Mama or my Cousin. It’s not the Black women and men who have limited employment options beyond fast food restaurants and other service based industries.  Go on almost any corner on the South side of Chicago, in Southeast D.C. or North St. Louis and you will see idle people. These are the people you won’t find on a campaign poster or in a national ad.

Unfortunately it isn’t sexy (or completely legal) to fund jobs just for Black folks. So what do we need? We need targeted job and education programs in areas where Black folks live. Not just in urban areas, but also rural areas. We also need Black folks to be engaged in the decision-making process. The common rhetoric that yes, jobs is an issue for all Americans.  I understand that. We all have to eat. But why not call a spade a spade? The current unemployment rate amongst White Americans is 8.9% that’s almost half that of Black Americans. Almost HALF. Hispanics are not too far behind Black folks at 13.2%. Black and Brown are typically not too far apart.

When the Congressional Black Caucus made a big to do on the Hill about securing jobs for Black Americans, it was problematic. How dare they demand jobs for Black folks? How dare they assert that a Black President ought to express deep concern for the population he drew moral, financial and political support from?  How dare they? Right…Wrong!

I could go on and on about the institutional factors contributing to this reality for Black folks in this country. As they say, when America gets a cold…Black folks get the Plague.  Where is the justice in the national jobs movement for Black Americans? Where is the justice in the halls of Capitol Hill for Black Americans? Where is the justice in the local Ward where people have been unemployed for years? Black issues are simply NOT sexy anymore. Deferring to multiculturalism skims over the meat and bones of reality.

Before we reach the end of this post I will point out one more fact. Nearly 34% of Black youth (aged 16-24) are currently unemployed. We have so much at stake.

WHERE IS THE BATTLE CRY? WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

In the face of so much struggle in the country we cant forget the struggles of those who have long been struggling. We must build on past successes and chart new courses for the future for ourselves. We need to do so in solidarity with others. We all should be able to eat. I know that until we achieve economic justice, we will have no real justice and no real peace in our streets.

Advertisements

Hyde Matters: Reproductive Justice and Women of Color

(Photo by Angela Hayden)

The Hyde Amendment was “designed to deprive poor and minority women of the constitutional right to choose abortion” – Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Yesterday I attended the “Separate and Unequal: The Hyde Amendment and Women of Color” panel at the Center for American Progress (CAP). I walked away feeling more knowledgeable and equipped to discuss the issue of reproductive service access with other women.  Whenever I walk into a space set-up to discuss issues impacting people of color in DC, I look for people of color. In this case I was looking for women of color. As soon as I walked in I saw a good friend and fellow woman of color who organizes for reproductive rights in the faith community. I also saw two Black women around my age (both actually work at CAP). I looked around some more and saw two or three more seasoned Black women in the room. After that I counted the number of rows and chairs in each row. Out of a room of 80 or so people, 9 were African American women and 2 Asian women. I know of at least 2 Latina’s in the room. The rest of the room was composed of primarily White women and men involved in the reproductive rights/justice movement.

So what is the Hyde Amendment?
Passed by Congress in 1976, the Hyde Amendment bans abortion care funding for Medicaid recipients in most circumstances.

What is Medicaid?
Medicaid is the federally and state funded health-care program for low-income individuals and families.

Women of color, particularly Black and Latina women, are more likely to rely on federal-state supported programs (e.g. Medicaid) for reproductive services. The most recent census data shows that 25.8 percent of African Americans, 25.3 percent of Hispanics are poor compared 12.3 percent of Whites and 12.5 percent of Asians.  The Hyde Amendment is a direct attack on the choices of low-income women, particularly women of color. Congressman Hyde attacked a basic civil right. Rep. Hyde admitted:

I’ll certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the …Medicaid bill –U.S Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL)

By intentionally targeting the most vulnerable group of women, those who often have to choose between paying bills and paying for an abortion, Congressman Hyde attacked a basic civil right. We could argue the morality of abortion until we turn blue in the face, however it is a constitutional right. The erosion of this constitutional right is a slippery slope starting in Black and Brown wombs. Women choose (or are forced to choose) to terminate a pregnancy for different reasons.  While the Hyde Amendment allows for Medicaid to fund abortion care in the event of rape and/incest; in practice this does not always happen. The panelists cited lower and slower reimbursement rates as reasons many providers simply refused to accept Medicaid payments for abortion care.

This isn’t an issue of citizens paying for abortion when they actually oppose it. This amendment was simply about diminishing the choices women can make. We fund wars, banks and prisons over education; all of to which I am fervently opposed.

So why hasn’t this policy been aggressively attacked by the larger reproductive justice movement? Well as Toni Bond Leonard, President and CEO of Black Women for Reproductive Justice, pointed out; we have been told to wait. Low-income and women of color have been told to wait. The issue of the Hyde Amendment has been pushed back in the larger reproductive rights movement. The reality faced by women of color presented with a difficult choice simply hasn’t mattered enuf. Advocacy organizations are slowly shifting to a reproductive justice framework. Once we begin to integrate systems of oppression such as racism and classism into any policy fight, things begin to get real and require power shifts. Any movement aimed at achieving reproductive justice, not just laws on the books, for the most marginalized women must have those same women in the forefront. We would be forced to undergo a real power analysis. The panelists and audience readily conceded to and asserted that position. Unfortunately the faces in the room and the movement don’t reflect those sentiments.  To concede and/or share power and leadership in the fight for reproductive choice threatens traditional groups. We also saw much of this dynamic in the broader women’s rights movement.

Toni Bond Leonard painted a quick picture of the moment African women landed in this country last night. From the introduction of the African women to the Americas as slaves, our wombs have been subject to the control and influence of others. Slave women were expected and forced to breed, yes breed. Once it was decided that they no longer had to reproduce (post-slavery) new tactics aimed to reduce pregnancy were introduced. The arch of reproductive control bends strongly away from women. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment would serve as a first step in pealing away the layers of control women of color are unwillingly cloaked under.

So why does Hyde matter? As a young woman any policy dealing with what I can and cannot do with my body is important to me. We have a duty to be engaged in this movement. We also have the right to demand a voice whenever anyone attempts to quiet our stories or devalue our experiences. Hyde matters for me, you and the daughters we may choose have in the future.

A free woman has the ability and power to choose.

 

Click here to read the Center for American Progress report “Separate and Unequal: The Hyde Amendment and Women of Color”

The Oppression Race

oppression [uh-presh-uh n]
-noun
1. The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner
2. An act or instance of oppressing
3. The state of being oppressed
4. The feeling of being heavily  burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, anxiety, etc.

Are you….

A woman?

Youth?

An older adult?

Poor?

An Immigrant?

Black/Latino/Asian/Native American?

Lesbian/Gay/Bi-sexual/Trans-gendered?

Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Atheist/Hindu?

Living with a mental or physical  disability?

Chances are likely that you have faced or encountered oppression in some shape or form in your lifetime. The institutions of oppression are both tangible and intangible; sometimes we can feel them and sometimes we can’t. I felt the oppression of poverty as a child whenever we went to the welfare office and had to report to a caseworker. I could smell the oppression of colonialism apartheid in the township of Soweto and in a hospital in Haiti. I can hear the sound of oppression whenever I hear music demeaning women and elevating violence. I can taste oppression when I visit one of the many fast food joints planted in low-income neighborhoods across this country. I can see oppression whenever I walk down the street and see people who are homeless right across the street from the White House. Oppression comes in many forms and is experienced in many ways. Simply “making it” in America doesn’t make you exempt from the heel of oppression.

In my experience oppressed peoples have had the tendency to compare oppression. I’ve seen folks literally try to demonstrate why they were indeed more oppressed than someone else.

I’m Black

I’m African American

I’m a woman

What you got? Most of us have something. Most of us can look through our lives and identify how they have been discriminated against because of a group they belong to or an identity they possess. Group membership may have its privileges, but it can also have its pains. The prominent institutions in American society; including faith based institutions, government, schools and civic organizations actively participate in oppressing people.  Leaders across the spectrum have actively inflicted pain. They also actively participate in ending oppression. Oppression is not by happenstance,  much of it is intentional and focused. The depth of polarities is maddening.

There is plenty of oppression to spread around. As I told my friend who inspired this post, I refuse to enter the oppression race. I have enough competitors in the race to stand still. In fact, our line would go around the field twice AND circle it again.

So why do we compare oppression(s) in the first place?

1. The desire to obtain power

2. The desire to gain political power

3. The desire to gain financial power

If you live in this world you see these three things happening everyday. Organizations and individuals profit from oppression without ever alleviating any of its symptoms. Social service agencies, NGO’s/non-profits, socially responsible corporations, the government and the educational system all profit from oppression. Oppression puts food on the tables of professionals and low/no income people. Oppression gets funding for civic engagement and gets individuals hired for jobs they otherwise may have not been considered for. Oppression kills and gives birth the new ideas and approaches.

Not all power is bad, its what we do with it that matters.

However, all oppression is bad. How oppression impacts people also differs. Whether a person eats or lives can lie solely on the institutions with the power to decide to fund or not to fund a project. Whether a person can marry who s/he wants can not be compared to the choice to have/not have a child. The undocumented student and the student in a decaying school system can not be compared. They have unique characteristics, however the systems saying yay or nay are not very much different. Comparisons tend to diminish the experience of one group in order to favor the other.  Ideas of what the world looks like and should look like in the hands of oppressors affect us all. My lynching is no bigger than yours. My inability to fully and wholly choose is no smaller than yours. Let me own my experience, I am happy to I let you own yours.

Until we begin to really identify oppressions impact on every life and organize with a sense of holistic love for EVERY being; we will continue to fail in our pursuits for justice.

Who wins in a race of oppression?

No one.