The comedian Stephen Colbert has a regular bit where he pretends to be so incredibly fair and unbiased that he no longer sees race. White guy? Black guy? Who knows?
In the era of the Barack Obama presidency, a similar kind of silliness often prevails in Albany and Washington.
Policy-makers have more or less doggedly refused to confront the fact that people of color experience life in America very differently.
The contrast is clear once again in today’s jobs report.
Yes, America faces an employment malaise. Yes, the economy is stuck in neutral. But the full-blown crisis really only affects pockets of our national community.
The unemployment rate for white men has dropped to just 7.9%. Not exactly robust, but hardly a depression-era number either — and it suggests that for one part of the nation’s workforce things are far better than headlines suggest.
But the unemployment rate for black men is an astonishing 16%. Black teens age 16-19, meanwhile, face unemployment rates close to 38%.
That’s particularly devastating because so many African Americans leave high school early and don’t attend college, meaning a lot of teens of color really need to be finding their way into the work force.
I’m sure that policy-makers across the political spectrum could come up with community-specific plans and strategies to address this crisis.
But the first step is to acknowledge and confront it honestly. If Mr. Obama and Congress really want to help the most economically crippled group of our neighbors, they have to talk about race.
What can be done to keep more blacks in school? What kinds of trade skill training could be provided for young blacks who can’t or won’t go to college?
How can we begin to rebuild particular neighborhoods and cities plagued with particularly high African American unemployment?
In the past, politicians on both sides of the aisle have suggested that a rising tide would lift all boats, and that general prosperity would trickle down to all segments and ethnic groups in the community.
But these latest numbers re-enforce the fact that long after the Great Recession ends for most of us, millions of black workers will be looking for opportunities and answers.
It’s remarkable, really, that we haven’t already seen more frustration and anger in the African American community. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements appear to be made up mostly of whites.
I wonder, if the recovery continues to favor certain pockets of our society, if that will change.
As always, your comments welcome.