Commentary by Phillip Jackson, founder and executive director of The Black Star Project:
CHICAGO - What will America do with 36 million Black Americans now that there is no more cotton to pick? Even in states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, Black people are not involved in the planting, growing or harvesting of cotton. This is now done by White and Latino men and women who drive machines that plant and pick the cotton, as millions of Black men of working age stand idle on street corners. For Black people in America, there is no more cotton to pick.
Black people were brought to America as slaves to pick cotton, tobacco and sugar cane. America's dilemma today is: what to do with 36 million Black American descendants of slaves who were shipped to American shores 400 years ago for their economic value yet whose heirs today have lost that value? While America might have once considered shipping Black Americans back to Africa, that is no longer a practical or palatable option.
So America has a serious problem that demands a solution. What will America do with 36 million Black Americans who have lost their value to the American economy? As the world moves towards science, technology, engineering, math and medicine (STEMM), fewer than fifty percent of Black boys graduate from high school in the United States. Many of those who graduate are given diplomas that qualify them for low-wage jobs or no jobs at all, street-corner hustling, incarceration and violent death. At best, the majority of Black students in America get an education that prepares them to only pick cotton - if there were cotton for them to pick.
According to an October 2010 Research Update to The Crisis Deepens 2009, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development, the Black male (ages 16 to 64) joblessness rate (53.3%) is the highest ever recorded among working-age black males in Milwaukee - the second highest American city jobless rate after Detroit (59.5%). Other metropolitan cities at incomprehensible jobless levels include Buffalo, 52.3%; Cleveland, 52.3%; Chicago, 50.3% and Pittsburgh, 50.3%. Additionally, a December 2010 policy brief, Unemployment in New York City During the Recession and Early Recovery: Young Black Men Hit the Hardest by Community Service Society of New York shows only 25% of young Black men in New York City between 16 and 24 years of age have a job.
While Black America laments the disastrously low employment rate of Black males, hundreds of thousands of foreign H-1B Visa workers (primarily but not exclusively in the high-tech industry) are imported to the U.S. to take jobs paying $100,000 a year and more. At the same time, many Black males in America who want to work will not be able to get jobs sweeping streets, cleaning toilets or picking cotton.
Our Northern cities have tired of their Black populations, and America is now "getting out of the Black people business." Neighborhoods that used to be "Black Belts," like Harlem in New York City, Bronzeville in Chicago and much of Washington, D.C., have gone upscale, and, as a result, most Blacks cannot afford to live there. So it is back to the South for many of them. This time, however, they will not be allowed to even pick cotton because there's no more cotton for Black Americans to pick.
If Black America is to survive (and there is no assurance), these are the five keys to fixing our economic and social problems:
1) Rebuild the Black family. Every major problem in the Black community, including poor education, massive unemployment, senseless violence, hyper-incarceration, lost spirituality, low-quality housing options and high mortality rates, can be traced to the disintegration of the Black family.
2) Provide Black boys with strong, positive Black men as mentors, role models and, particularly, a connection to their fathers. Black boys, like any other children, will imitate and become what they see. It is critical that Black children see strong, positive Black men.
3) Control the negative peer culture and electronic media that mold many Black boys and men into violent, irresponsible and uncaring human beings. Either Black people will control the media that we consume or the media will control us.
4) Understand that for the rest of our existence, Black people will live in a "STEMM" world, a world based on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine (STEMM). If we are to survive, it will be because we understand and master "STEMM." We must teach Black children accordingly.
5) Control our economic fate by mastering the principles of entrepreneurship, business, management, finance, accounting, manufacturing, saving, investing, banking and tithing, and by teaching these principles to our children.
This is the way, and the only way, to solve the problems of Black people in America. Unless we, Black people, quickly respond to the changes in our world, even our cousins on the continent of Africa will not want us. And we will truly be "a lost tribe" wandering the world without a home. We must realize that we live in an "Educate or Die" society and an "Educate or Die" world! There is no middle ground. There is no more cotton to pick!