By Matt Johnson
The unemployment rate for black folks has been twice that of white folks since the civil rights era. And before that, black folks, including those who were trained as teachers, scientists, and lawyers, just to name a few professions, were not allowed to teach, do research, represent clients, or were regulated to these practices in the “black” marketplace. That is, the “black” marketplace is an economy separate from the “white” marketplace.
If black folks had jobs in the “white” marketplace, it was shining shoes, cleaning bathrooms, or servicing white families. In other words, even if black folks were educated, they were not allowed to participate in the marketplace as equals.
Obviously, things have changed since the 1960’s. Citizens of African heritage have gained in small ways and big ways. Many from this traditionally disenfranchised group have become teachers, scientists, and lawyers; and because of federal laws and the progress in America’s moral compass, those from this traditionally disenfranchised group have been able to compete in the marketplace as equals and win.
But this doesn’t mean that we are there yet as a nation; this doesn’t mean we are there yet in our morality; and this doesn’t mean we are there yet in the equitable opportunities we provide for black folks. Like Frederick Douglass’ life, the road is long and hard, but it bends towards justice.
So with this context, we ask ourselves, why doesn’t the mainstream media highlight the socio-economic factor of unemployment among black folks? Indeed, unemployment among this traditionally disenfranchised groups is trending downwards nationally. But when compared to all other groups, we can see black folks still have the highest unemployment rate.
And we can also see that black unemployment in American cities follows this national trend. If we analyze the unemployment rates for race in a given American city, our odds of observing an unemployment rate twice as high for black folks when compared to other groups will be very good. But we should also be cognizant in the reality that black unemployment doesn’t sell ads.
Unfortunately, the cold, dark reality is that there is no incentive on the part of media outlets to highlight such discrepancies in the marketplace, although this would be beneficial to raising the consciousness of those who are not exposed to such a reality.
One reason for this is because the mainstream media covers the news. And by definition, the news is something new, note worthy, and an important, discrete event in time. The news does not include continuous reality, although black folks experience this reality everyday.
Another reason is that the United States is still largely segregated and these higher levels of unemployment exist in these segregated areas of cities. Case in point, the largest levels of unemployment in Minneapolis, Minnesota exist in predominantly black areas of the city, and this has been true for decades. These areas also experience the highest levels, or nearly the highest levels, of crime, and foreclosures and condemned and vacant buildings, i.e., urban decay. These areas also have the highest levels uneducated citizens.
Another case in point is Detroit, Michigan. Unemployment rates among black folks are the highest in the nation. And forget foreclosures and condemned and vacant buildings, the city has experienced such high levels of urban decay that large swaths of the city just doesn’t exist anymore.
In other words, instead of rebuilding after tearing down commercial and residential real estate because of urban blight, the City of Detroit opted to leave those areas empty, which meant no opportunity for new small businesses, employment, tax revenues, business revenues, education, and anything else that contributes to the stimulation and perpetuation of an economy in a positive direction. The blood of the market place, employment, will not have an opportunity to increase the lot of black folks in these areas of Detroit.
But again, we should realize that black unemployment doesn’t sell ads for mainstream media outlets. What’s important for the media isn’t necessarily important for traditionally disenfranchised American groups unless it is a moment in time where they have an opportunity to generate clicks, visits, and views. Think Michael Brown or Philando Castile who were shot and killed by local law enforcement.
The point is not the circumstances of the shooting itself or who was at fault. The point of these two individuals is that they were utilized by the media in such a way to draw in viewers and readers. The news is important to the mainstream media. Generating visitors and viewers is important to the mainstream media. These in turn allow mainstream media outlets to place ads and thus generate revenues.
So what ought to be done? Realistically, changing the state of the mainstream media will probably be a pointless endeavor. It’s a large, self differentiating system with more moving and interacting parts than a person can count. And the focus is instant gratification. Fixing an unemployment problem that has been going on for longer than a few decades is not something that will be fixed over night. It’s not instant gratification. And that’s just the sad, damn truth. So what ought to be done? That’s the question.
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