Looking for Answers

(I wrote this essay back in September of 2011) I watched President Obamas’ speech on jobs last week, hoping he would say something to me. I hoped he would say something about the depression level unemployment rate that black males suffer. I hoped he would speak to the limited access to resources that prevents us from opening businesses or furthering our education. I expressed this concern to the older, wiser members of my community and they assured me that Obama see’s us. He just can’t address us directly for fear of alienating the majority that supports him. This answer didn’t satisfy me, but I could see the logic. After watching the President’s Speech, I attended another, this one by the former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich at Drake University where I attend. His talk was surprisingly funny and immensely informative. His comments on taxes, healthcare and jobs drew applause from every member of the audience and I sat smiling as he addressed issue after issue with a fiery intelligence that I can only hope to achieve in the future. After his speech there was a short question and answer session. I hurried to the stage, eager to ask this great man the question our president had not answered. I stood in line as the audience berated those who dared ask more than one question or offer a lengthy introduction before “getting on with it”. Finally it was my turn and Mr. Reich looked down sagaciously from the stage as I framed my inquiry. “Considering the unemployment rate for African-Americans is nearly twice the national average,” I said nervously. Suddenly aware that I was only one of about a dozen black faces in a room of hundreds. “My demographic has been living in a depression for nearly a decade. What do you think the benefits would be if the government addressed this issue directly, or if not, what can community members do to address this issue directly?” He stepped back to consider the my question then very gracefully acknowledged that minorities have been hard hit by the recession but assured me that we are all, this entire country, in it together. He offered that education should play a role in addressing black poverty, but I should not forget that this is not a race issue. I regarded him, again unsatisfied with the answer an elder had given me and embarrassed I had put him on the spot. His response echoed something I had been told years ago by older, bitterer black men; they don’t care about us. Not in a malicious, hateful way. But the neglect we feel comes from the lack of consideration. The pain comes from not being seen and then being made to feel ashamed to show concern in public for your people. At the moment he said it’s not just about you, I felt inappropriate; guilty for making the people in the audience squirm under a subject they could have gone months without thinking of. And from this experience I have stumbled across a truth that has given me more solace than the answers from my elders or even the President. We, African-Americans or any other group, cannot look to others to solve our problems, or wait for the government to acknowledge our suffering. Progress and relief will only come from pursuit of the American dream in a coordinated effort and unapologetic allegiance to one another, similar to the Hispanic and Asian communities. I appreciate Mr. Reich and his honesty. While I can’t agree that we are all in this together considering the obvious disparities, I do recognize that an intelligent, brutally honest approach to this question will yield the most fruitful answers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *