Race and Class: Blacks Still Taking the Hit

— Malik Miah

IT TOOK TEN months before the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) stood up and challenged President Barack Obama. In a surprise move, 10 CBC leaders refused to participate in a key House financial committee vote in December until some more relief is provided to Black businesses.

Black politicians and civil rights leaders have been understandably careful about criticizing the first Black president. Yet facts on the ground, especially the super high unemployment in the Black communities, forced their hand. While their challenge is mild, it is significant.

The impact of the Great Recession has been greatest on Blacks as well as on other ethnic minorities. Official unemployment is nearly 50% higher for African Americans than for whites. What’s most striking is that the Black middle class, including those with Ivy League educations, are having a hard time finding jobs.

The issue of “race” once again is becoming a hot topic in the Black community as qualified professionals and skilled workers with equal or better résumés than whites are being turned down for jobs — going instead to whites with lesser qualifications. It is a reminder of the pre-civil rights era.

At the same time, the gains of the civil rights revolution make it possible for Obama to be president and the Black elite to still hold some major jobs in big business. But there are clear signs of erosion.

One example reported in a front page story in The New York Times entitled, “In Job Hunt, even a college degree can’t close racist gap (December 1, 2009),” notes that many Blacks are altering their names to sound more “white” to get interviews.

A study published in the American Economic Review reports that applicants with Black-sounding names received 50% fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names.

Getting the interview, of course, doesn’t mean you will be accepted in a tight private sector job market where most interviewers are generally white. (Government jobs are different where enforcement of anti-discrimination policies is stronger and more minorities are employed.) Even if you can get into the door for an interview, it doesn’t mean the most qualified person gets the job. There is little talk about “reverse discrimination” in this environment with double-digit unemployment. For the most part affirmative action in hiring is nonexistent.

One University of Chicago graduate applying for a business money management position in Dallas told the Times of how one hiring manager became excited while talking to him over the phone about how lucky the company was to hear from someone with a top business school education.

But once the company representatives met him and saw that he was Black, “Their eyes kind of hit the ceiling a bit. It was kind of quiet for 45 seconds.” The company’s interest in him quickly cooled.

A Yale University graduate commented, “It does weigh on you in the search because you’re wondering how much is race playing a factor in whether I’m even getting a first call or whether I’m even getting an in-person interview once they hear my voice and they know I’m probably African American?”

De facto Discrimination Lives

As the Dallas example shows, while it is illegal to discriminate, employers know how to avoid hiring Blacks without blatantly or overtly violating the law. Articles are now appearing in major papers and websites about white and Black professionals seeking identical jobs where the more qualified Blacks don’t even get return calls from recruiters. The old maxim, “last hired, first fired” is not applicable since these qualified Blacks can’t even get in the door.

On top of this, the bailout of Wall Street provided few funds for small businesses. Loans and lines of credit are nearly impossible to find. This is doubly true for Black businesses — this is credit redlining.

Some 14 years ago the government began tracking the number of hungry Americans facing what it euphemistically calls “food insecurity.” Today the Department of Agriculture calculates that there are some 49 million Americans — 26% of Black households, 14.6% of white — without enough food. Millions of adults only eat one meal per day and a record number of families rely on food stamps.

The oldest and most respected civil rights group, the NAACP, is now calling on President Obama to take firmer action on the jobs front and the economic recession’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans.

Other Black leaders are also criticizing Obama’s decision to spend billions more for the war in Afghanistan (up to $40 billion per year) while few dollars are going to help the poorest communities save their homes and get jobs. Obama never mentions the special problems facing Black working people.

Racial Reality of Joblessness

The data make clear that race does matter when it comes to joblessness. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in November 2009 unemployment for whites was 9.3%, but 15.6% for Blacks. Overall the unemployment rate was 10% (much higher when those who have given up and the underemployed are added). Long-term unemployment (those persons jobless for 27 weeks or more) continues to increase. It is twice as high for African Americans.

A second statistic also shows the color divide. Black men working at full-time jobs make $622 per week, which is 74.5% of the $835 median for white men.

The unemployment rate among men with college degrees in 2009 is 4.4% for whites, and 8.4% for Blacks. For those with high school diplomas, unemployment is 10% for white men, and 15.9% for Black men. For those with less than a high school degree, it is 13.9% for white and 24.2% for Black men.

The BLS statistics among women are similar — 4% for white women with a college degree compared to 6.9% for Black women. For those with a high school diploma, 7.4% for white women, compared to 11.4% for Black women; and 13% for white women with less than a high school degree compared to 18.3% for Black women.

The BLS statistics are raw data compiled from across the country. The fact that the racial gap is consistent for all social categories indicates that race and racism is structural in society. Accordingly, special measures (enforced by the federal government) are required to help African Americans overcome structural discrimination. These must include affirmative action programs and push back against employers who will find ways to interview but not hire African Americans.

Many Black elected officials in Washington are beginning to see that uncritical support to Obama is not a smart policy. Anger is growing in the Black community. Unemployed African Americans will not get jobs or be trained by “waiting” for the first president who happens to be Black to help them.

Civil rights leaders have been less forceful in these efforts, however, because of a reality that concerns them — the increase in right-wing and racist smears and threats against Obama.

Rise of Hate Groups

There has been a qualitative increase of hate mail and threats directed at President Obama since he took office. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) based in Alabama has reported on the significant rise of the militia movement that is infused with racist ideology. Its report, “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias,” cites the following evidence:

• Fifty new militia training groups, including one composed of current and former police officer and soldiers.

• The convening of so-called “citizen courts” and “grand juries” that have issued indictments against President Obama for treason and fraud.

• “Sovereign citizens” who subscribe to the ideology that whites have a higher citizenship status than others and do not have to pay taxes or obey other laws. They engage in “paper terrorism” such as filing bogus property liens against enemies.

• The introduction of states’ rights resolutions in the legislatures of about three dozen states. The governor of Texas has gone so far to talk about “secession.”

According to its founder Morris Dees, as of the end of 2008 the SPLC documented 926 hate groups in America — a record number and an increase of more than 50% since 2000.

While many of these rightist efforts and militias have existed in the past, what’s new is the reality of the first Black president. Coupled with their hostility to immigrants  — legal and undocumented — the smear campaigns of Fox News and the energized extreme right with its racist and other neo-fascist language, create a climate that enables blatant discrimination.

These elements were on vivid display at the well-organized intervention by the conservative base of the Republican Party at the town hall meetings on health care last summer. Many opponents of Obama brought weapons and displays of Nazi and racist images to intimidate officials and those with genuine concerns. On her book tour Sarah Palin’s demagogy, with her direct appeals to not-so-subtle white nationalism, “Obama is not like us,” could not be clearer.

Glenn Beck of Fox News summarized the views of the racist fringe and mainstream neoconservative movement when he said President Obama “has exposed himself over and over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred of white people or the white culture.” (July 28, 2009)

What Needs to Happen?

The rise of overt racist talk, militia groups and more “confident” bigots attacking Obama requires a response. The response should be more than to simply protest the racism of the right. It must center its demands on the government to act on issues of urgent need for society. This includes taking up traditional civil rights issues like jobs, affirmative action and health care for all. It means opposing Obama’s push for a deeper war in Afghanistan and toward implementing the Bush agenda abroad.

Ultimately the only way to reinforce civil rights laws, push again for affirmative action in employment and take on de facto discrimination in hiring requires public protests and action. The concern that the “Black” president cannot be openly criticized, since the racist right is after him, is a mistake.

The small steps taken by the Black Caucus in Congress, the NAACP and others to demand a change are openings to do more. What’s needed are marches for jobs, health care, defense of women’s rights and other issues that were won by the civil rights and other social movements. Without public protests and counter mobilizations, the airwaves and streets will continue to be dominated by the ultra right and the neoconservative forces.

There are many white working people sucked in by the energized anti-Obama, government-is-bad-at-everything campaign as symbolized by the Palin book signings and town hall protests. They still can be neutralized or even won over to the antiracist and progressive side if a revitalized left movement emerges. White people’s social consciousness, along with the struggles of all working people in this country, rose in the 1960s when a minority Black community led the civil rights revolution that transformed the country.

ATC 144, January-February 2010

refusal to hire African Americans

It blows my mind that it is 2016 and some company Presidents, CEO and members of the general public still have the mindset of the 1950's. I currently work for a company who hires Hispanics but not for any type of management position. I have worked for this company for 6 years and in that time frame there was one African American/Caucasian individual who worked for the company but has since left. During my employment we have had young African American high school students come to the door and ask for an application for summer positions and even though they are given an application, there is absolutely no chance in hell upper management will hire these young men for the summer. All management in this company are Caucasian - there are two Hispanics who run the floor but who answer to a white worker.

When there are job openings, the preference is Caucasian. I have yet to see the management team even interview an African American - it is not for the lack of African Americans having the know how, talent, education or skill set of how to do the job, it is the President and the mindset he has created within his company.

I have started looking for another company to work for because I can no longer take the blanket statements, lack of diversity and just overall feeling of being less than the Caucasian employees. Don't misunderstand this post, it is not every employee at this particular company, most employees that I work with are open-minded and have noticed and made comments to the lack of diversity. The president of this company actually believes since he has hired Hispanics then there is no issue - but where are the opportunities for these employees (there are none)? Why in such a big city are there no African Americans working for this company?


I am black and from a (West Indian Carribean background)and I am finding it difficult to find a job as well, despite having a degree. I really don't know what to do as I send application after application to employers and do not get a response, if I do get a response it is to tell me that I was "unsuccessful". I am also trying to get an apprenticeship and apparently I cannot apply for any vacancies, because I have a degree and I am too old (I am 36 by the way).

I am really sick of this, because I have a life to live and bills to pay. When you tell some people about this, they have the CHEEK to suggest voluntary work, I do not want voluntary work! I want to be paid a salary just like everyone else. Racism is definately a factor, because most of the agencies(who have mainly white staff)that I have sent my CV to, have little to no qualifications yet have jobs.

A guy that lives next door to me, who is white and has never even been to school is employed and has been employed for a long time, while I always struggle to find work and have to make do with living on welfare (Jobseekers allowance in the UK). I also live near a big shopping mall and I have handed my CV in many times to stores and get zero response.

This is why I feel affirmative action should be implemented, I have never understood why people have campaigned to get rid of it in the USA, as it is designed to give black people a fair chance of landing employment. In the UK it has never been undertaken, because they have a large white working class population and you cannot as a black person be seen to be doing better than a white working class or even middle class person.

That is also why slavery repatriations should be pursued, because some white people don't want to employ us, they don't want us to claim welfare, nor do they want us benefit from affirmative action, so what the f**k do they expect us do? Is this soft genocide, for some of us blacks? starve us to death. At least if they paid us repatriation money, we could at least go somewhere else and start again!

Hi Nisa-(Not sure if my post

Hi Nisa-(Not sure if my post will come through as I've posted twice unsuccessfully now)

Nisa, i can totally relate being Pakistani British born. I have encountered so much racism from these agencies. I live in Newcastle and as you well know, the working class in the UK have huge racial issues with non whites and are quite nasty with it. They make up a huge population in the UK, so people like you an dme have to put up with it. The south is better than the north, where it is mostly working class. I am at the end of my tether like you. White people with hardly any qualifications get jobs time and time again in the UK.

I can really relate and sympathize with you.

British born and educated Pakistan's suffer awful racial barriers in the UK as do some other ethnic minorities.

They have done undercover research in UK and discovered that agency staff would bin ethnic sounding names, especially Pakistanis and African sounding names.

I have applied to many jobs that i am qualified for and similar to the American minorities experience i have had the employers highly enthusiastic assuming i am white over the phone as i am very well spoken. Once i say my name they go quite and make some excuse up and i never hear from them again. I have got my friend Anna to ring for positions that I've been rejected for but where i'm a lot more qualified than her. As we suspected, they have been desperate to call her in for registration or interviews etc.

I now feel de motivated to apply as i always have this in my mind. It's like trying 20 times harder than a white person and still not getting anywhere.

It's only getting worse in the UK.


I am currently faced with

I am currently faced with opposition repeatedly every time I submit my application and portfolio. There are four major hospitals where I live. I passed the boards 5 months ago and I have only received two interviews, with no job offer. However, 6 classmates that live 1 hour or more from these hospitals are currently working at these same area hospitals I applied and they were interviewed within 3 months. I live 20 minutes

I think employers are told

I think employers are told not to hire black people to keep them down! It's a disgrace. Although you shouldn't be discriminated, indirectly you are. Who is trying to keep black people down and not achieving their goals, dreams or even getting a decent job to bring food to the table and support a family? Is it the government? Is it society? Are white people scared that black people will take over and have the tables turned? In the meantime, all you hear is the negativity about black people. "Black man with a hoodie-robbed a lady or even a bank" listen a desperate man who has a family and needs to feed his kids will go postal and do whatever it takes to feed his family! We can't judge a black man for doing this!!!! I know it's wrong but someone has to have a voice and unfortunately the black community is not supported.
There are a lot of things that we don't know and will be kept in the dark. People please do your research and find a way to come up and rise from all this. MINORITY SHOULD SUPPORT YOUR OWN!!! Help each other!!! Let's start here!!! Start today & spread the word!!! Look around you, don't support an establishment that has no one that looks like you!!!
Keep positive and always keep your head UP!
Peace to the God!

This article

I am a white person who is a teacher at a school with mostly hispanic, black and muslim students. Before this job I worked in an urban school that was 97% black. I have two masters degrees and I am working on a doctorate. I was unemployed here and there throughout the Obama presidency. Anyways, I am here to share my experiences as a white educated woman at face value: My current salary is $39,000 a year and thank God my husband makes more.

1) My father was a white male (single father) who worked as a supervisor to support us in a furniture factory. He worked there 25 years at $30,000 a year. We never asked for public assistance and lived on the basics as far as food and shelter.

2) I was the first person in my home to go to college. I worked three jobs while in school. I had coworkers from all races and there was always respect. In addition, i graduated from college with several multicultural classmates, some of which got better jobs than me and some who did not.

3) I have been highly abused by hispanic, white, and black supervisors. The best supervisor happened to be a white male. The worst supervisor I ever had was a white female and a cuban female. My black supervisor hated me but she wasnt as abusive as the other female bosses that I had. My current supervisor is a cuban female who is actually very nice. I decided not to hold my past experiences with this gender and race against her. Its not easy holding back my past pain.

So this is it for now. I hope this adds to our insight.

On a positive note: As a

On a positive note: As a women of color, intelligence, skills, and experience, I have experienced much of what is stated in the previous comments. But surprisingly, my situations occurred from 1991-2002. Because in 2003, I consistently was hired for work, BY WHITES. Whenever I was unemployed, I was diligent, driven, determined, and maintained a positive outlook for myself. I projected so much light, strength and confidence, those are the qualities that whites saw and always hired me, many times on the day of the interview. Those qualities, whites find attractive and THAT is what they see that is LIKE them, that ambition. It never stopped me and I ALWAYS believed in my abilities. I learned resume writing techniques AND I always had 2-3 interviews per week and always landed a job in less than 30 days. I WAS ALWAYS EXHAUSTED WITH MULTIPLE INTERVIEWS. The most time I was out of work was 8 weeks, and I was about to die. I taught myself the versatility of the job search such as faxing, emailing mailing resumes. Then I'd take the yellow pages which are full of jobs and just call and ask if they needed help? I got hired this way TWICE. I also would park my car and knock on doors, dressed in my best. A company with white staff saw me and offered me a job. It's all in your presentation and attitude. Confidence is sexy. If you look for the negative you will find it. Now granted I have had interviews where on paper, the company wanted me and when I got there, they started choking asking for water. One had the nerve to say when I asked what's wrong? "Oh, I was expecting someone else". Now how can that be possible? Most of my interviews end up being more conversational because I've worked in so many fields and positions. They find that I have a lot in common with them and we end up reminiscing about the way things were in the corporate world of the past or just life in general. But one problem I have faced, is not being able to move up. I can get in, but once there, I'm stuck. But not with my new job of 2 months, they have a lot of growth and promoting within. In fact, people of color have high positions here and it is encouraging. So yes I've experienced the clowns who did not want me because of my color, but most of the time, those white employers were breaking their necks to hire me. IT'S ALL IN PRESENTATION. Don't give up.

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