In the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray finds himself living the same day over and over again. He keeps wondering when he’s going to wake up and find that his life has moved forward, or that some progress has been made. To his surprise, he sees that nearly every remark, every action, and every outcome is the same as it was the day before. Things only move forward when Murray decides to change his outlook on life and actually do the important things differently.
I feel like Bill Murray every single month when I receive the monthly unemployment reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This month, like so many months before, has seen yet another increase in the black unemployment rate.
The unemployment rate for the African American community went up from 16.1 percent to 16.2 percent. Black males, who already had the highest unemployment rate of any ethnic/gender category, saw their joblessness rise from an astounding 17 percent last month to 17.5 percent this month. This is the largest increase of any group and is tantamount to giving a dying man yet another deadly infection.
Similar to the film Groundhog Day, something has got to give. African-Americans must do something differently. Politicians in Washington may want to reconsider the seemingly antiquated tactics used last year. Black males may want to realize that there is an opportunity for us to begin seeing ourselves as a viable political coalition with the capacity for political unity and power. Such a large percentage of black fathers and husbands unable to provide for their families is a symptom of a dying community.
The unemployment numbers also tell us a story about the persistence of racial inequality in America. While white unemployment has declined since May of last year (8.5 percent to 8.0 percent), black unemployment has risen (15.3 percent to 16.2 percent).
Black teenagers, who are disproportionate victims of violence after being bullied by young people with no hope, also saw their unemployment rate rise over the last year (38.4 percent to 40.7 percent). This is in contrast to white teens, who have experienced a massive decline in their unemployment rate (25.1 percent to 20.7 percent).
Any outside observer who also noticed the U.S. government’s recent boycott of the UN World Conference on Racism might be compelled to believe that the United States has a serious problem with structural racial inequality. When a system is already designed to create natural economic caste systems in a society, the decision to remain silent about the inequities of such a system is another way of supporting it. Racism does not disappear on auto-pilot, but it can certainly live and grow when systems are left in default status.
African-American men, who lie at the bottom of the barrel in nearly every statistical category that relates to opportunity and quality of life, must come together to support one another. We should stop paying attention to the race or gender of our political leaders and start noticing whether their policies are a fit to the issues that are most relevant to our communities. Rather than attacking any one political figure for his decision, or lack thereof, to participate in healing the plight of inequality in America, we should address the entire political system itself with passionate advocacy for the matters that affect us the most.
The bottom line on black unemployment is this: Doing the same thing will lead to the same results. If America doesn’t become serious and courageous about addressing racial inequality, this social disease will fester and eventually destroy us. This two-tiered reality must be confronted and must eventually be brought to an end.