For Black Community, No Good Jobs Is Nothing New It is widely acknowledged that the middle class is facing new feelings of insecurity. Commentator Cord Jefferson says that for the African-American community, these feelings are reminiscent of a time when access to jobs was blocked not by a recession but by racism.
NPR logo For Black Community, No Good Jobs Is Nothing New

For Black Community, No Good Jobs Is Nothing New

Cord Jefferson is a frequent contributor to The Awl. Cord Jefferson hide caption

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Cord Jefferson

Part of the series Living In The Middle

Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root.

One need look only momentarily at a diamond-encrusted-Jay-Z video, or a black minister preaching "prosperity gospel," to know that the African-American community has appreciated America's capitalist sensibilities for generations, if not always consciously. In a world in which the dollar is king, anyone who can produce capital, regardless of his or her skin color, has a chance of rising to the upper echelons of society. What they find at the top might not always be nice — Sammy Davis Jr. once opined that stardom allowed him to be insulted in places other blacks couldn't dream of being insulted — but even being allowed into those ranks is, to some, a success in itself.

Like their counterparts of all races, of course, most African-Americans won't come across vast riches. But they will have in common with their wealthy brothers and sisters the knowledge that, though racism and intolerance can take away a lot, they can't take away the dignity of earning a living.

Owning a home and being able to put warm meals on the table for your family are points of pride for everyone who can do so. But I have to believe those abilities hold particular resonance with African-Americans, who for centuries were stripped of both job opportunities and the dignity that accompanied them. Even today, there are places that are unsafe for blacks to go. But a man's home is his, and when he is paid for a hard day's work, it's with money that's universally accepted — even if he isn't.

As the middle class desiccates, it's this loss of the very human sense of pride in stable employment and a few nice possessions that is, I think, the most insidious defeat for the black community. Two generations ago, African-Americans wanted good jobs, but bigotry stood in their way. Nowadays, African-Americans would still like good jobs, but owing to the sinking economy, they are again foiled. The reasons are different, but the ultimate feelings — shame, failure, a sense that you've been shut out — remain the same.