Yesterday the news media was abuzz with stories on the growing wealth and prosperity gap between black, white and brown people in America.
To be candid, I am not sure why everyone is walking around in shock and awe. This is not news to most black and brown people who live in this great nation. The steady loss of wealth of the black-middle class and other racial minorities has been the subject of many black news articles and reports since 2008. Sadly, the mainstream media and policy makers in Washington rarely pay attention to those reports, because we still do not grasp as a nation that unless all of our people are doing well, and working; our nation as a whole cannot long do well domestically and globally.
While we all appreciate that many of our fellow Americans regardless of race or class are hurting in this deep recession that began in 2007, what yesterday's Census data findings tell us should disturb us all as an American family: Racial minorities (in particular black Americans) are losing sacred economic ground that was paid for by our ancestors in precious blood, sweat and tears.
But the wealth gap is just the tip of the iceberg for Black America. It runs much deeper.
Several weeks ago many of my black friends and colleagues around the nation were deeply peeved when Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) appeared to be trying to win black voters over when she proclaimed that, "President Barack Obama had failed the African American community on jobs". The reaction of the black news media was equally harsh: Who is this white Republican woman to even talk about the black community, much less blame President Obama for the lack of jobs and record unemployment?
I was peeved too but for different reasons. Don't we as Americans expect every presidential candidate, regardless of party to talk about job creation, and strengthening the American economy in all of our communities? Rep. Michele Bachmann, like her or not, seemingly grasps the concept that America works best, when all of our people are working. In my opinion, it is refreshing to have a conservative woman running for president who understands that the upward progression of black and brown people is fundamentally tied to the ultimate prosperity of America as a nation. That should be good news to us all.
But here is the deal: Black unemployment is presently at a record 16.7%. But it is shallow at best to cast that blame on President Barack Obama (as Bachmann and GOP candidates have attempted). I had the opportunity to speak with some White House Senior Staff a few weeks ago, and I can tell you, both they and he care deeply about the black/brown unemployment rate. The real debate we as Americans must begin to have, however, is why Black unemployment (and the prosperity gap) is always double that of our white counterparts no matter who the president of the United States is.
Let me say again -- no matter who the President of the United states is!According to a recent article titled, "The Disappearing Black Middle Class" written by Jesse Washington:
I know this reality first-hand. I lost my big law firm job in 2007, and more as I had to use my my entire 401K savings, as I looked for work and finally launched a successful new career as an entrepreneur, freelance journalist and author in 2008.
"Millions of Americans endured financial calamities in the recession. But for many in the black community, job loss has knocked them out of the middle class and back into poverty. And some experts warn of a historic reversal of hard-won economic gains that took black people decades to achieve."
My goal is to help us better understand that the entire American family has a vital interest in addressing the serious economic and social maladies that exist in the modern day black community. We are better than the rancor, and misunderstanding of our own history that still often divides us as Americans.
Look, we all know there is no love loss between the black community and the GOP for the past 30 years. Something that intensified when Rep. Bachmann signed onto a controversial pledge presented by The Family Leader, an Iowa-based Christian conservative organization. The pledge in part, titled, "The Marriage Vow", originally stated the following: "sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President." The organization later retracted this statement from the original pledge after intense blow back from the black community.
But, let me say that the time has come for us as Americans to stop reacting with emotion and start dealing with the facts. First, let me begin by addressing the "pledge" as it relates to black "families" living in 1860. Yes, one could argue that the black family today with 73% of children born of out wed-lock, staggering black male unemployment in some cities as high as 35%, black marriage on the decline, and single black female heads of households numbering well over 50% is worse than our condition during slavery; but that would be like comparing apples to oranges. You can't. In order for us to have this discussion properly we have to put into context how a black family was defined in 1860: for black people there was no legal marriage, there was no household, black men and women were used to "breed" to produce profitable offspring as chattel to be owned or sold. Blacks could not own property; we were property. (See "Slavery and The Making of America" by Prof. James Oliver Horton, pp. 98-99).
Webster's dictionary defines "a family" in several ways: 1.) a group of individuals living under one roof under one head 2.) A group of persons of common ancestry: a people regarded as deriving from a common stock: race 3) a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation : fellowship . Clearly the first definition best fits the status of blacks in 1860-with the property owner being the "head of house". Simply put, you cannot equate a 21st Century "Family" standard with a 19th Century anti-family institution (e.g., slavery).
In that regard my advice to conservatives who want to be president is that you must broaden your view of "family". As The View's Whoopi Goldberg passionately lamented a few weeks ago http://www.businessinsider.com/michele-bachmann-petition-the-view-video-2011-7 many families now include single parents who are raising their kids alone. Is it ideal for kids to be raised in a single parent home? No, all of the data including from respected organizations like the National Urban League tell us that it is better for kids to be raised in loving, economically stable, two parent homes.
My point is this: It is a straw man for us to attack Michele Bachmann for stating what we all know to be true. I am glad someone on the GOP side is actually talking about the issue front and center: Black unemployment is unacceptably high and the "traditional" middle class black family model I grew up with in the 1980s is in deep trouble. We as a people need to do something about it now for the well being of America as a whole.
Sophia A. Nelson is author of the new Amazon & Barnes & Noble top-seller non-fiction book, "Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama" (Benbella, May 31, 2011).
Follow Sophia A. Nelson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/IAmSophiaNelson