February 17, 2006

Commentary:

Why So Many Blacks Fear Immigration

Part II (Part I published February 10)

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
NEW AMERICA MEDIA

“There was this good kid, 17, who goes down to the local McDonalds to get a job. The manager tells him he can’t hire him because he doesn’t speak Spanish. Here’s a kid trying to get a little ahead — American born, four generations in South Central Los Angeles — who can’t sell french fries because he can’t speak a foreign language. You want to talk about disillusionment.”

The speaker is Terry Anderson. He’s a brash, outspoken black L.A. talk radio host, and he recently told his listeners this anecdote about the young black who couldn’t find work because hordes of illegal immigrants are supposedly snatching jobs from blacks. Anderson is one of a small but growing number of black anti-immigration activists who dump the economic woes of poor black communities upon the undocumented.

Anderson is a little bit right and mostly wrong. In parts of the South and Southwest, illegal immigration has markedly reduced job opportunities for unskilled or marginally skilled young blacks. But that’s only one factor in the economic destitution of many blacks. Bush’s soak-the-poor fiscal and economic policies, government slashes in education and job training programs, race-fueled crime jitters and employer fears and stereotypes about young black males have done far more than illegal immigration to fuel the black unemployment crisis.

The urban riots of the 1990s reinforced white fears that all young black males are inherent drive-by-shooters, gang bangers, drug dealers, are lazy, have foul attitudes, are chronic underachievers and eternal menaces to society. When some young blacks turned to gangs, guns and drugs and terrorized their communities, that stirred ghastly visions of the boys-in-the-hoods heading for suburban neighborhoods. That also reinforced the notion among many employers that all young blacks must be criminal and derelict, and that it’s risky business to hire them.

During the past couple of years, state and federal cutbacks in job training and skills programs, and the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records have sledge-hammered black communities. In the late 1990s, long before the major surge in illegal immigration, the California Assembly Commission on the Status of the African-American Males reported that four out of 10 felons entering California prisons were young black males.

The high number of miserably failing inner-city public schools also deepens the unemployment crisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples. These students are desperately unequipped to handle the rapidly evolving and demanding technical and professional skills in the public sector and the business world of the 21st century. The educational meltdown has seeped into the colleges. According to an American Council of Education report, in the past decade Latino, Asian and black female student enrollment has soared while black male enrollment has slowed down.

Employers buy into the stereotypes. A University of Wisconsin study found that black men without a criminal record are less likely to find a job than white men with criminal records. The picture is even grimmer for young black males. According to Labor Department reports, in 2005 nearly 40 percent of young black males 16 to 19 were unemployed. In real numbers, more than a quarter-million blacks in this age group were out of work. Overall, nearly 2 million blacks were jobless. Despite the Bush administration’s boast that its tax cut and economic policies have resulted in the creation of more than 100,000 new jobs, black unemployment still remained the highest of any group in America. In countless studies and surveys conducted during the past three decades, sociologists and researchers discovered that employers use endless dodges to evade anti-discrimination laws. In a seven-month comprehensive university study of the hiring practices of hundreds of Chicago area employers, many top company officials when interviewed flatly said they were extremely reluctant to hire blacks.

When asked to assess the work ethic of white, black and Latino employees by race, nearly 40 percent of the employers ranked blacks dead last. The employers routinely described blacks as “unskilled,” “uneducated,” “illiterate,” “dishonest,” “lacking initiative,” “unmotivated” and “involved with gangs and drugs.” They “did not understand work,” were “unstable,” “lacked charm,” “had no family values” and were “poor role models.” The consensus among these employers was that blacks brought their alleged pathologies to the work place, and were to be avoided at all costs. White employers alone didn’t express these bigoted and ignorant views. The researchers found that black business owners shared many of the same negative attitudes.

A survey by the Los Angeles Times of small businesses in Los Angeles County revealed that the overwhelming majority of Asian, Latino and white-owned businesses refuse to hire African-Americans. Small business owners say they discriminate not because of race, but because they don’t have the resources to do mass hiring. Whether that’s a cop-out to mask their refusal to hire blacks or not, the end result is the same: blacks are shut out of more job opportunities.

Seventeen-year-old young blacks may or may not be blocked from some jobs because of illegal immigration. But they’re just as likely to be shut out from those jobs because of discrimination, frozen racial attitudes and failed government economic policies. Anti-immigration opponents turn a blind eye to that.

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