Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Rev Sharpton on Unemployment

Dec 06, 2009

It was regarded as one of the most historic days in our nation’s history. Unprecedented numbers of young people and minorities hit polling stations and cast their ballots in a national election. After an intense, seemingly endless campaign cycle, the populous was engaged and actively participated in our political process in ways previously unheard of. And for the first time a majority – Whites included – attempted to rectify our tumultuous and troubling past by electing the first African American President of the United States. A little over a year later however, I ask, have things on the ground really changed all that much?

The Labor Department recently reported a loss of some 11,000 jobs in November, and rejoiced that the unemployment rate fell to 10% – down from 10.2% in October. President Obama himself just completed a half-day brainstorming session with more than 100 CEOs, business and union leaders, academics and more as he laid out plans for increased energy efficiency and weatherization that would in turn spurn more job creation. During this summit, the President highlighted possible new tax incentives and other mechanisms that could further slow down record high unemployment. But what gets lost sometimes in all the summits, discussions and stats on our dwindling labor situation is the continued dilemma of racial inequity.

Several days ago, the NY Times published an in-depth article on the continued difficulties among Blacks to gain employment – despite equal education and experience to their White counterparts. In addition to highlighting methods some qualified Black job seekers have implemented to ‘mask’ their ethnicity, this piece discussed the stark disparity in the job market. According to the NY Time’s article, the unemployment rate for Black male college graduates 25 and older this year has been twice that of White male college graduates (8.4% to 4.4%). The piece further emphasized studies that indicated applicants with Black-sounding names received 50% fewer callbacks, and that White males received substantially more job leads for high-level supervisory positions than women and people of color.

We live in a unique and perplexing time in history. As the nation works to rectify its many wrongs against the disenfranchised, minorities continue to suffer discrimination in the most basic sectors of society. You would think that when we have reached such heights as the highest office in the land, that equality would permeate throughout housing, employment and the financial realms of our lives. Instead of a ‘post-racial’ environment however, race is just as dangerously utilized to promote inequality and the status quo as it has ever been used before.

There are those who have argued through the years to eliminate affirmative action and in effect rid any semblance of opportunity to rectify acts of institutional racism. Their insistence on ending these vital programs that help to level the playing field for people of color gained renewed strength following the 2008 Presidential Election. But as the NY Times article so aptly portrayed, injustice in the workforce during such a dire economic time is astonishingly high and we cannot continue to shut our eyes towards reality. Affirmative action is a must. Though we may not blatantly be called the ‘N word’ to our faces in a job interview, the subliminal acts of discrimination have just as detrimental results as if we were. The facts just don’t lie.