Stuff Black People Don’t like

Stuff Black People Don’t like

#262. Onus on Barbershops

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At a time when Black unemployment is rising to unprecedented levels, one is hard-pressed to come up with any viable vocational alternatives for those out-of-work or underemployed. Levels of Black unemployment were reaching 25-year highs back in January, now they approach a critical stage that might require the involvement of the United Nations to decide if this represents a Human Rights violation:

Well, the nation-wide suffering for African Americans has just intensified with the recent unemployment data delivered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s most recent report showed that while white unemployment only went up from 8.6 percent to 8.7 percent, black unemployment went up from 15.6 percent to 16.3 percent. This increase is at a rate that is 700 percent higher than the increase for white Americans.

The numbers tell an interesting and sad story about the forgotten economic hardships being felt by black people all across America. First, black unemployment is nearly double that of white Americans. While the rest of America finds itself screaming in pain over unemployment rates between eight and nine percent, black America is asked to remain silent about unemployment rates as high as 15 – 16 percent. While U.S. government officials are not acknowledging African American economic hardship, the United Nations is. As of April, the UN announced that it is investigating whether consistent black unemployment in America is a human rights violation…

The worst group of all are black teenagers. Their unemployment rate already stood at a startling 40.6 percent last month. This month, it rose to 45.4 percent, which is not only the highest unemployment figure of any group, it is also 90 percent higher than the unemployment rate for white teenagers, which held steady with a modest increase from 23.5 percent to 23.8 percent.

One can look at the rate of Black teenage unemployment as a distressing sign for the future job prospects of Black people once they reach adulthood. The truth of Black unemployment is probably far worse than anyone could imagine considering the high rates of incarceration and dependence on the government to subsist through the deft redistribution of tax-funds and, more importantly, job creation.

Job creation under the auspices Black Run America (BRA) comes in many forms, most importantly in the overrepresentation of Black people in the Public Sector. In spite of the existence of BRA, Black unemployment continues to lurch upward; shocking when one considers the inherent value proposition that a diverse workforce provides, according to a multitude of major corporations and colleges that promote – above all else – the unremitting importance of both a Black presence and Black involvement in every aspect of 21st century life.

Why do Black people find employment so difficult to maintain, when a position with the government (Federal, State or Local) is all but assured and guaranteed in BRA? The answer might be available in the US Department of Labor’s recent Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity 2009 report:

In general, the labor market problems experienced by Blacks and Hispanics are associated with many factors, not all of which are measurable. Some of these factors include a tendency to be employed in occupations with high levels of unemployment, lower average levels of schooling, greater concentration in the central cities of urban areas where job opportunities may be relatively limited, and the likelihood of discrimination in the workplace. These factors and others may help explain the acute labor market difficulties Blacks and Hispanics encounter, especially during economic downturns.

From this report, we learn the top 10 occupations in America with the largest percentage of Black employment (for those wondering, the lowest is here):

1. Barbers—35.0%

2. Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides—34.0%

3. Residential advisors—29.6%

4. Security guards and gaming surveillance officers—28.6%

5. Postal service clerks-28.3%

6. Baggage porters, bellhops, and concierges—27.1%

7. Postal service mail sorters, processors, and processing machine operators—26.4%

8. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs—25.7%

9. Bus drivers—24.9%

10. Parking lot attendants—24.4%

Outside of the United States Postal Service, all of these private-sector fields of employment yield high growth potential and an obvious financial windfall befalling those Black people who pursue these illustrious vocations. Better yet, none of these jobs require an overabundance of education to perform.

The US Postal Service (a virtual jobs program for Black people) continues to lose billions, though the outstanding contributions of the Black employees are routinely highlighted as a source of great pride, despite the looming threat of insolvency and the potential displacement of those Black employees:

“We view diversity as a winning business strategy and use it as a tool to deliver results,” said Susan LaChance, vice president, Employee Development and Diversity. “It makes good business sense.”

Forty percent of postal employees are minorities as compared to 32.8 percent in other federal agencies. Fifteen percent of executives are African-Americans. The Postal Service employs approximately 124,000 African-Americans, 52,000 Hispanics, 50,000 Asians, 1,300 native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders and nearly 4,000 American Indian/Alaska Natives.

One can only laugh at a company that continues to trumpet its racially diverse workforce at a time when it posts billion dollars losses; all on the tax payer’s dime.

It appears that any stimulus plan to benefit Black people and create sorely needed jobs must start in the one industry that is already a vocational path for many Black people and a constant source of community pride and entrepreneurial activity –the barbershop.

Though they might not like their own hair, Black people find a trip to the barbershop or hair salon a necessity of life and important monthly ritual:

Barbershops are a pulse of black America — a place where the frankness of what the men and women who frequent them say is exceeded only by the passion with which they speak. They are one of the places white politicians should go to gauge the thinking of black America. And they ought to be the sounding board for any black politician who wants to do more than just pay lip service to the idea of representative government.

“When you leave the barbershop, you look better, but you also want to feel better,” the elderly owner of Randolph-Wright’s fictional barbershop says. I know what he means.

In France, the bourgeois once spent their time in salons debating important issues of the day. Black people gather in the local hair salon to discuss these issues:

“To fully appreciate the political thought and action of African Americans, it is imperative to understand that these interactions are more than social. They are the spaces where African Americans jointly develop understandings of their collective interests and create strategies to navigate the complex political world,” wrote Harris-Lacewell in her forthcoming book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, to be published in March by Princeton University Press.

The conversations reveal ideologies, which are tied to black intellectual traditions and linked to African-American public opinion, she said.

Harris-Lacewell was joined in her work by graduate student Quincy Mills, a black male doctoral candidate in History, who spent four months hanging out in an African-American barbershop on Chicago’s South Side to listen to the patrons’ conversations.

“They talked about white power structures and the relationship of African Americans to the state and to capitalism. They critiqued black leaders, discussed the political power of the black church, argued about reparations and cheered on African-American Olympic athletes,” Harris-Lacewell said.

The 2002 film Barbershop inadvertently showed why high unemployment rates are found in the Black community, conversely showing the importance of the barbershop – both culturally and economically – to the Black community:

On a cold winter Saturday in Chicago, Calvin Palmer, Jr. (Ice Cube) decides he’s had enough of trying to keep open the barbershop his father handed down to him. He can’t borrow enough money to keep the place open, it’s not bringing in enough revenue, and he’s more interested in coming up with get-rich-quick schemes to bring in easy money. Without telling his employees or the customers, Calvin sells his barbershop to a greedy loan shark named Lester Wallace (Keith David), who lies about keeping the place the same and suddenly makes plans to turn the place into a strip club.

Sadly, the barbershop cannot supply an unlimited number of jobs and careers to an increasingly beleaguered segment of the Black community, who find themselves separated from their former vocations.

The undue stress on barbershop owners to shoulder the job creations burden for jobless Black people when a multitude of other vocations apparently lack the alacrity for diversity that the public sector maintains is worrying and a major cause for concern when considering their future job prospects.

Of course, one look at the jobs that Hispanics perform with the highest percentages should provide enough fodder for an immigration reform movement to arise among Black people. A direct correlation should be obvious between high Black unemployment and high levels of illegal and legal immigration, though those bemoaning the continued proliferation of out-of-work Black people steadfastly refuse to acknowledge or even discuss.

Thus, the onus is on Barbershops to continue to support the dreams and aspirations of Black people everywhere. They must continue to the bedrock of Black employment, a place where a haircut is only one facet of the job performed, and the center of cultural vitality of the community.

If not, what industry will pick up the slack?

Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes the onus on barbershops, the primary industry that must continue to off-set the high rates of Black unemployment. Without barbershops, one can only shudder at the high rates of Black people who would be considered not economically viable and worsening the bleak economic outlook for Black employment.

But barbershops cannot shoulder the load forever. The United Nations already questions the potential human rights violation inherent in the high unemployment rates for Black people now, so another industry must step up to the plate.

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