Black Men Can’t Get Into Oz
Written by former gubernatorial candidate Tim John
53.3 % of metro Milwaukee’s working-age black males were not employed in 2009: either unemployed, or, for various reasons (including incarceration), out of the work force, Dr. Marc Levine of the UW-M Center for Economic Development reported.
Black male jobless rates have increased over the decades regardless of the political administrations. Most politicians consider the issue political suicide, as both black and white officials skirt even using the word “black”, let alone “black man”. Until we become comfortable saying “black man” and discussing unemployment in the black community, the issue will not be solvable.
The subject of black male unemployment cannot be intermixed with joblessness of any other ethnic or racial group because every group has exclusive experiences. Black men have unique reasons for their elevated unemployment rates, such as slavery, having recent roots in the South, being seen in a negative light by the majority population, and being misunderstood due to insular communities. No other Wisconsin group shares this same set of circumstances.
While our understanding of black male joblessness is a black man without a job, it is better understood as black men being excluded from “Oz”. The fictional land of “Oz” is where the majority of us are born, learn, mature, find employment, marry, have children, grow old, and die. If you can’t get into “Oz”, you won’t succeed in Wisconsin. For the most part, in the Dairy State, black men cannot get into “Oz”.
Manhood and fatherhood are developed from childhood and our system has minimized constructive role models for black men, as illicit drugs, criminal records, unsuccessful schooling, and joblessness have diminished their once prominent role. You can’t get into “Oz” if you are functionally illiterate and have a criminal record.
Just as a building collapses after too many supports are taken away, large sections of Milwaukee’s black community have collapsed because too many black men have been carted away in chains wearing orange jumpsuits. For every man sent to prison, there are family members who will fall deeper into poverty and lose whatever slight chance they had of getting into “Oz”. Communities can handle losing some men, but will flounder when too many men are taken away for long periods.
What can we do?
Get into the Central City if you’re white. Get out of the Central City if you’re black. Make black friends. Make white friends. Reach across the divides of race, religion, geography, economic status, and political parties. As it is imperative for black men to reach out to white, Hispanic, Asian, rural, and Indian folks, it is equally necessary for others to do the same in return. The reduction of black male unemployment will begin as easily as one Wisconsinite clasping the hand of another, asking, “How can I help”?
While government programs can help lessen the elevated rates, such as demanding more workplace integration, contract set asides, and equalizing procurement of entrepreneurial capital, they are ineffective without thousands or millions of our interracial relationships. We must understand each other’s worlds without the filter of the media.
I recommend a system created by the private, public, and non-profit worlds. We can establish a system of retail stores throughout Wisconsin, where black men can sell products they have formed with their own hands, in their own neighborhoods.
Black men can begin to form businesses with others from their own church, social, or neighborhood organizations. Inmates can begin to form business groups while yet incarcerated to speed up their re-integration into the outside world. These start-up businesses can be funded by individuals, banks, or government agencies, such as the new Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. These companies will succeed with a support network that already exists to a substantial degree. For instance, there are myriad organizations and individuals currently that provide classes, mentoring, and low cost loans for little to no money.
The philanthropic world can participate by funding a statewide marketing program that promotes buying local from Wisconsin manufacturers.
Banks and other financial institutions can play a role by providing funds to start up businesses by black men. While nobody is expecting these institutions to assume all of the risk, they can, nevertheless, take the lead. Private individuals and governmental agencies can participate by guaranteeing loans.
The remainder of us can participate in the solution by purchasing products from these stores. An ongoing process of changing goods to meet demand will be part of this system.
The course of black men reaching “Oz” begins with an out stretched hand. It reaches fruition with a state-wide business system that provides all Wisconsinites the opportunity to collaborate in solving the neighborhood crushing concern of high unemployment.