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The “Black jobs” Narrative is False, Harmful | Bacon’s Rebellion

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The “Black jobs” Narrative is False, Harmful | Bacon’s Rebellion

By Derrick Max

Derrick Max

While most of the post-debate news coverage is still rightly focused on the mental acuity (or lack thereof) of President Biden, the use of the term “Black jobs” by former President Trump in the context of low-income, unskilled jobs that will be impacted by our open southern border, bothers me almost as much. This type of false categorization leads to policies and beliefs that do great harm to the African American community.

Sadly, there is a bipartisan failure to understand or appreciate Black economic vitality. Blacks, in the current false narrative, are poor and in need of both protection and assistance. From Trump’s inartful claim that low-skill jobs are “Black jobs,” or Democrat contentions that African Americans don’t have or can’t get IDs to prove citizenship to vote, or most recently, Governor Hochel saying that black kids in the Bronx “don’t know what a computer is” – the picture painted of Black Americans is one of hopelessness and despair.

This narrative ignores the fact that the progress of Black Americans since slavery is nothing short of amazing. If you separate out Blacks in the United States and rank their combined GDP, they would have one of the largest economies in the world on par with the economies of Mexico, Canada, and Italy — and ahead of every country in Africa.

In 150 years since emancipation, Black progress is something to be cheered! “Black jobs” in this context include being President and Vice President of the United States, being a justice on the Supreme Court, cabinet members, Generals and Admirals in the military, and CEOs of some of the largest corporations in the Fortune 500.

In Virginia, “Black jobs” include a former Governor, the current Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. It includes being a billionaire co-founder of a major entertainment company and resort. I could go on.

Most people don’t realize that from emancipation through 1965 Black income grew at a faster pace than white income. While growing from a base of basically zero is easier, this progress was real and significant. Black economic growth occurred despite the struggles of recovering from slavery and living through overt racist policies like Jim Crow.

The above doesn’t even include major sports, where Black Americans were not even allowed to participate until the 1950s. Now, “Black jobs” include the majority of players in both basketball and football. Likewise, “Black jobs” in music, the sciences, and politics are a continued sign that Black American achievement is nothing less than exceptional.

No doubt racial injustice in this country is ongoing. But ignoring Black success by focusing on an exaggerated Black despair is not the answer.  White communities need to hear of the rich history of Black accomplishments, and Black communities need to see and celebrate their rich and successful history.

Black entrepreneurs helped fund the abolitionist movement alongside wealthy white businessmen. Why is this narrative ignored? We would rather falsely act as though wealthy whites were and continue to be oppressors, and Blacks were and continue to be poor and oppressed. Shame.

This narrative hurts Black agency – as young African Americans are told their jobs are unskilled and thus they will remain poor. Even more overtly, Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia has an “anti-racism” curriculum where students are forced to watch a video that characterizes whites as “privileged” and Blacks as “oppressed.”  One video even told students that only white families could live in big houses. Easily falsified by those in more economically diverse communities, but factual to Blacks living in our troubled inner cities.

Solid academic research shows that success in life is highly correlated with one’s belief in their own ability to improve their standing. While studies show the importance of access to education and capital in improving one’s economic position, such resources are meaningless if the recipient of those resources doesn’t believe in their ability and agency to use those tools to improve their lives.

Generalizations that tell African Americans their lot in life is to have a low-skilled, low-paying job will lead to economic exit. It will destroy agency. Why study? Why follow the rules? Why try if your future is limited to low-paying “Black jobs” that will keep you on the outside of the American dream. Are we surprised that this narrative, buttressed by critical race theory in our schools, is leading to hordes of young African American youth opting to loot and burn our major cities, often grossly defended by liberal commentators viewing these illegal acts as justified and a part of some sort of self-service reparations?

I have seen the impact of the “Black jobs” and “blacks are poor” false narratives firsthand on how Black students negatively view themselves and their community. When I taught economics to Juniors and Seniors in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Southeast, DC, I would ask my students, all of whom were African American, “What percent of Blacks are poor?” I would let them discuss as they mentioned Oprah, Obama, and various Black athletes before they would inevitably answer, “90 percent?” I would then say, no, and immediately, they would all yell out, “95 percent?”

When I would tell them that the official poverty rate of the U.S. Black population was under 20 percent – they were sure I was lying. When I would tell them that almost fifty percent of African Americans are in the middle to upper-income classes, it would be a near mutiny.

We must do better, especially for students born into very difficult circumstances. Not only must they find the means to overcome their everyday reality, but they must also see that all jobs (engineers, physicians, scientists, Presidents, professors, investors) are jobs open to them. Only then can they harness the grit and agency necessary to achieve the American dream. We must retire the “Black jobs” narrative forever.

Derrick A. Max is president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, which first published this commentary. 

 

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