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by Dr. Boyce Watkins
I recently traveled to New York for a panel on black male fatherhood, hosted by former NBA player Etan Thomas. The panel consisted of other great athletes, including former NY Knick Allan Houston, Billy Hunter (Executive Director of the NBA Player’s Association), Chris Broussard from ESPN and several others. One of the topics that came up was economic security as a contributing factor to the breakdown of the black family in America.
This issue burns me up because some of us don’t see the link between black unemployment, mass incarceration and the breakdown of the family. When men can’t get jobs and a chunk of them are in and out of prison, the numbers of men eligible to run a household decreases dramatically. So, even though some of us don’t care about these issues, the reality is that these problems affect all of us.
The black unemployment problem is one of the leading economic crises to hit the presidency of Barack Obama. It is also the one that the administration has probably ignored the most. This economic elephant in the middle of the room is both a problem that politicians consider unnecessary and too difficult to solve. It is mostly unnecessary because Obama and his team have always known that they never had to deal with the issue in order to keep black loyalty. It is difficult to resolve because the reasons for the problem run incredibly deep.
Writing for TheRoot.com, Keli Goff does a wonderful job of highlighting the importance of developing black businesses as a way to fight the black unemployment problem. She mentions that minority employers are far more likely to hire black people, so black-owned businesses can be open lots of doors to the rest of us. This evidence is further shown by the recent story about the woman who changed her race from black to white on Monster.com and then received dozens of additional job offers.
Here’s the deal: People tend to hire those with whom they have the most in common, those who they understand and those with whom they feel most comfortable. Unfortunately, we’re usually not included in that group. This is doubly true for black men, who find that merely being intelligent and confident can lead others to treat you like a criminal. Therefore, it is not surprising that black male unemployment is the highest for any other group in the country. The bottom line is that when we choose not to shuck and jive at every turn, we can easily be perceived as being a threat.
Things cannot continue this way if we are seeking to rebuild the black family in America. We must also stop buying into systems that only serve to perpetuate our own oppression. One of the ways to get off the economic plantation is to ensure that all of us and our children learn the basics of starting our own businesses. You don’t have to be a full-time entrepreneur, but everyone should at least develop a part-time revenue stream. This additional economic security will not only improve your ability to provide for others, it also frees you from the shackles of having to remain quiet and loyal in the face of blatant disrespect from others.
The Obama Administration can help matters by providing more funding to support and develop black businesses. Targeting government resources to areas hardest hit by the recession could make a difference. While he’s at it, the president can lift his pen and start putting together task forces to re-examine prison sentences for Americans who received harsh terms for drug distribution 10 and 20 years ago. We all agree that those sentences were long and Draconian, and we also agree that most of them tended to be handed down to black people.
Rebuilding the black family in America is going to require us to think differently and try new strategies. The advantage of being where we are is that we know for sure that the old models aren’t going to work. So, in order to secure our individual and collective economic security, it’s time that we learn to start owning our own stuff.