Myths that keep black Americans unemployed

An excellent op-ed from John McWhorter.  McWhorter is a well known African-American conservative and here he explodes the myths that African-Americans sometimes operate under that result in some remaining unemployed.  With respect to everything he says about the myth relative to securing employment, I’m in 100% agreement and there’s nothing to be added.

Where we depart ways however,  is his contention that ending the war on drugs would eliminate criminal activity and force young African-American drug dealers into legitimate employment.   To be sure, the street corner drug trade would be eradicated with such a move, but legalization is like throwing in the towel on enforcement and the failure of the drug war relates very much to the targets selected for enforcement action.  The main targets are the brothers on the corner who are largely not responsible for the wholesale importation of the drugs into the country or the nationwide distribution infrastructure.  If the main targets were the people responsible for bringing the drugs in to begin with, then the guys on the corner would be greatly reduced as a consequence.  I’m not suggesting that the guys on the corner aren’t a problem–they are, but what I am saying is that the drug war was never designed to be effective at the outset and the only thing it has achieved is the building of an economic structure known as the prison industrial complex (i.e. private corrections companies, vendors and lobbyists that represent them) where young black men are cannon fodder for someone else making money by housing them in prison.  Actually, they’re cannon fodder in a couple of ways–in the prison industrial complex and in the retail distribution of illegal drugs.   Effectively, they fuel both these industries at great cost not only to the themselves but also to the  communities where they operate.

But, by the same token, I really can’t cry victim here, because as McWhorter points out, there are many other options available to make a living.  The bottom line is that better choices have to be made and if those were being made, the prison industrial complex and the drug importers would simply just be out of business in African-American communities.

Myths that keep black Americans unemployed

By John McWhorter

Myths that keep black Americans unemployed

The very idea of a black unemployment crisis would start to sound as antique as expressions like “interracial couple” and “token black” if we could just lose two of the things currently plaguing black America.

First, we have the most crippling myth distracting the black community. I don’t mean the idea that Snapple has tried to sterilize black men or that AIDS was cooked up in a laboratory. I mean the narrative that goes: “It used to be that a black man without an education could go to a car plant and get a job that he could raise a family on. Today, you have to have college to have a middle-class life, and college is too expensive.”

This myth neglects how easy (and cheap) it is to get vocational training at a community college, and to get a job that doesn’t require a B.A. but pays a living wage and sometimes more. We have to think out of the box here – although in this case, “out of the box” is right under our noses.

Did the guy who last repaired your furnace go to college? And do you think he’s starving? In fact, don’t you get the feeling he makes about what a plumber makes? (He does.) What about cable installers? Auto mechanics? Building inspectors?

In any city, there are ads all over public transit for vocational programs teaching people to do these things – sometimes I wish more of them would feature young black men in the photo instead of black women, Latino or even Slavic sorts. Quite simply, it’s not true that modern America is so cruel a place that people who don’t go to college will scrub toilets, although this idea is now an op-ed page boilerplate. The Obama Administration is giving special funding to community colleges. This is, ladies and gentlemen, civil rights legislation under a different name. Let’s take advantage.

Second – although this one is a longer shot – we must get rid of the ‘War on Drugs’. The sad truth is that part of the reason the word doesn’t get out as much as it should in black communities about how men can get good jobs without college is that an alternate career always beckons: selling drugs on the street at a major markup.

No, all young black men don’t sell drugs. Most do not. However, a great many of the young black men counted as unemployed are not homeless or living off their mothers. Thousands of such men, for example, come back to a typical large city from prison each year. And most of the nasty inner-city shooting incidents you read about are related in some fashion to drug sales and patrolling turf.

The ‘War on Drugs’ myth is a corollary of the first myth I mentioned because both myths imply it’s so unlikely a black man will find a job without a B.A., that it’s inevitable, understandable and even proactive for him to turn to “Them Corners.” I will never forget when, at an event on black men in crisis, a panelist mentioned that black men selling drugs exhibit discipline in showing up for their work and the well-heeled black women in the audience applauded. They were operating under an assumption that these guys were doing their best – or at least deserved a break.

Maybe they do – in that as long as selling drugs is an available option for people of that demographic, a certain healthy number will take advantage. More than a few of the people reading this would, under similar circumstances. Let’s face it, it’s an easy choice – even if potentially dangerous. It’s comfortable to stay within one’s social orbit, and always tempting to be offered the possibility of becoming a kingpin.

Get rid of the ‘War on Drugs’ – which has been futile in all departments – and sell drugs as a controlled substance (yes, including the hard stuff), and there would no longer be any profit in Them Corners.

The trade would dry up within weeks – and suddenly, for the first time in 30 years, we could get a look at what young black men of humble circumstances are really made of. I know what they’d do – they’d start getting legal work. Their siblings, cousins, and children would watch them doing it – and in one generation, there’d be no more black “crisis” to muse over.

The question is whether we can get the word out on how to get a job without college before the War on Drugs is ended. Opportunity isn’t what it was a few years ago, to be sure. But recessions pass, and people promulgate ‘The Myth’ even when the economy is flush anyway. It’s the responsibility of all of us to counteract ‘The Myth’ and start working with the world as it is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: