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Misplaced Protest in the Black Community

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This article is part five of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience. 

by Esther Coleman

In March 2006, the country was shocked to hear allegations of rape and racially motivated violence lodged against athletes from one of our top universities. And more recently, people in New York have taken to the street in droves to protest the slaughter of a young father during the early morning hours of what was to be his wedding day.

Mobilization against such blatantly racist attacks is indeed a necessity, but it calls into question why that same level of anger isn’t expressed towards issues that are contributing to the collapse of the black community. The dwindling supply of affordable housing, limited access to quality health care and the dismal conditions of our public schools are such issues, but one would be hard pressed to find any rallies being planned to bring light to such glaring disparities affecting the black community. 

Where is the alarm when there are statistics that tout that many blacks are unemployed or underemployed? Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for January 2007 show that blacks are unemployed at a rate nearly twice that of whites. And while blacks make up 11% of America’s workforce, we make up 16% of minimum wage workers. Why aren’t we taking to the streets to fight for black youths to have a real chance at higher education? Following the logic that America is a knowledge-driven economy, it’s a wonder that we aren’t taking action against an educational system that is so damaged that it would graduate only about half of its black students and even fewer of its black male students. Not to mention the low admission rates of blacks into institutions of higher education. Where is the public outcry over what these educational deficits will mean for the economic future of the black community?

There are numerous incidents of environmental injustices: historical ones such as Brown’s Dump in Jacksonville, Florida, where the EPA found that for four decades carcinogenic ash from a nearby incinerator fell on houses in largely black communities, to the continued placement of waste facilities and chemical processing plants in or near predominantly black neighborhoods like Cancer Alley in Louisiana. Blacks in urban and rural areas are consistently faced with environmental hazards; living in industrial communities that expose them to high levels of air and water pollution or in farm areas with high exposure to pesticides. Why isn’t this a public health issue that gets just a moment of attention?

With the successes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, many blacks were able to live the “American Dream,” with greater access to education and jobs with higher earning potential. As a result, many integrated into white communities—creating not only a geographic divide, but communal and socioeconomic divides within the black community as well. Because we tend to identify with issues that affect us a class rather than as a race, there is no longer a communal identity.

The loss of that communal identity makes it easy to explain away low levels of employment and academic advancement, with the idea that those who have not progressed are suffering from behavioral deficits (such as laziness and lack of focus), and quashes any efforts that would spur the black community to unite to bring attention to issues that may not be considered “hot-button” issues yet disproportionately affect black people. 

This class stratification within the black race is a primary reason why we only tend to galvanize as a reaction to an injustice—failing to recognize that there are still issues that affect us across class lines. We must organize to create proactive measures that would create systemic change, while providing and closing the gaps in quality education, accessible healthcare and safe, affordable housing.


Gates, Henry Louis Jr. America Beyond the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans. Warner Books, January 2004.

Superfund Fact Sheet EPA Region 4 Atlanta, GA. 2004. EPA.gov.

Transcript from “Black Community United? Exploring Political Unity in the Class Divide.” 2006. Harvard University Institute of Politics.

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About Clayton Perry

  • cg

    The problems of education should not be placed only on the school systems. The communities need to step up and value the education system for things to get better. I understand that the black communities have had limited access to good education in the past, and this leads to a mistrust of the system; But there is a community level problem when less than half of black male students graduate from Minneapolis public schools in 4 years.

  • ETS

    You are right to mention that class issues divide us. I, personally, don’t think that division by itself is negative. It’s natural and should be expected. But my question is why isn’t EVERYONE rallying against injustice? If one us is affected, aren’t we all?

  • Nancy

    Most of the problems you mention in this excellent article are endemic to ALL of us, of every color: the disappearance of affordable housing, of jobs to overseas & illegals, of corporations willing & able to poison any number of people, just to line their own pockets, altho it does fall disproportionately on the black community. However, IMO the problem isn’t really racial, so much as it is economic: as long as the ruling Oligarchy can keep the working public at each others’ throats by inciting racial distrust, they can continue to divide & conquer – & rule while forcing us to divest ourselves of our very fillings for their private, personal enrichment at our expense. By importing, employing, & inciting illegals as they do, they are able to pull the rug out from under anybody who works or wants to work. They don’t care what color their employees are: white slave labor is as good as black slave labor is as good as illegal slave labor, as long as they hold all the power & the aces to dictate terms. I own I am puzzled, infuriated, & frustrated when people of all races who are being held down by the very small, ultra-rich circle of politically connected, turn on each other instead of them, the REAL oppressors & danger to all of us. Consider how many McMansions are built: how many wealthy people are able to buy all these things? Not that many, even in the US. The shortage of affordable housing may not be a conspiracy, but it definitely works to the advantage of the ruling rich, & considering the way they operate, I would be a fool to think they HAVEN’T thought of it. After all, the cigarette companies have been caught time after time ‘enhancing’ the nicotine content of their products precisely to CAUSE addiction & therefore increase both the number of new smokers as well as ensure the perpetuity of those already addicted. So what if it kills people? The rank & file are regarded as so much grist for their mill, fodder for their cannons in Iraq, expendable commodities, not human like themselves because not wealthy & powerful. What’s that old adage about ‘rich man’s fight, poor man’s war’? That pegs it exactly right: it’s not racial, it’s socioeconomic at the very bottom.

    I look forward to reading more from this author.

  • Fight for life

    The way they see it we were meant to be kept down and they just don’t understand why we are getting respect now.They have been trying to exterminate the black race like they did with the indians,but the black man overcame the slaughters.For centuries we were mad to feel CURSED but now it’s our time to shine.

  • Black Magic

    Very interesting material.The problem stems from 400 years of oppression, humiliation,deprivation, SLAVERY, apeing, inequality, murder, dehuminization, poverty, lower living, torture, cursing and HATRED. BUT now it’s our time to shine. I’m too strong for your slavery.

  • Interesting! I am looking forward to reading more.