An Unequal World for Black Americans

“As television beamed the image of this extraordinary gathering across the border oceans, everyone who believed in man’s capacity to better himself had a moment of inspiration and confidence in the future of the human race” (Martin Luther King Jr., March on Washington, 1963).

Fifty-eight years after the march on Washington, Dr. King’s dream for more jobs, freedom and economic security for black Americans remains unfulfilled. According to the Pew Research Center, the unemployment rate for blacks has steadily remained twice that of whites over the last six decades. Black labor was brutally exploited for centuries, limiting their job options to certain sections of the service industry that have a new name: frontline workers.

Blacks have been denied opportunities through structural racism in policymaking at the local, state and federal levels. It’s well known that the exploitation of a black child starts at a very young age. Noted writer Zadie Smith poignantly shows us how zip-code based privileges have been exploited for centuries by politicians, suburban moms, real estate agents and almost everyone with privilege.

“If this child, formed by poverty sits in a class with my child, who was formed by privilege, my child will suffer- my child will catch their virus” (Zadie Smith, Intimations).

It’s an unequal world for blacks in America. For every $100 white families earn, Black families make just $57.30. A fair shot at the pursuit of life, liberty and prosperity is limited to a privileged section of society.

If you are a black woman, the data gets more shameful. Black women make 38 percent less than white men and 21 percent less than white women! This staggering pay gap begins in entry level occupations and increases as they progress through their career. 

Income inequalities have created unexplainable health disparities with black people having higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease than other groups. Black children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma compared with white children. 

An analysis by the Commonwealth Fund early last year showed that COVID-19 deaths were disproportionately higher in communities with predominantly black populations because they were more likely to live in poor, polluted neighborhoods, overcrowded households and have inadequate access to health care.

Being black has never been easy, especially if you wanted to apply for a job. Surveys show that more than half of black Americans experience racial discrimination in hiring, compensation and promotion considerations. The oft-quoted study: “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Kamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” in the American Economic Review, has clearly shown us that blacks with equal qualifications got fewer callbacks for their job applications.

So, what can corporations do? Rather than jump into a frenzy hiring your next chief diversity officer or making a checklist to make yourself seemingly equal in the DEI lens, here are 3 things that you can do today:

  1. Recognize the problem: Study the issue thoroughly based on facts and without bias.
  2. Start at the top: The CEO has to practice what she preaches. Get a solid grasp of the problem in front of you. Start listening sessions with black and other minority workers. Have empathy, don’t assume you know what their experience has been, and find solutions.
  3. Start small and act: Instead of assigning another committee to give you a report,  find out what you can do immediately. Begin with small actions like an assessment of your internal pay structure and find out if it is equitable.



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