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.
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.