Jobs Are Great, but They Won't End Structural Racism
By Nathalie Baptiste | Jul 21, 2015
Bernie Sanders touts policies that most progressives can get behind. His emphasis on good jobs for all is indisputably important and affects all Americans: white, black, Latino, Asian, and beyond. But when black people say Bernie Sanders has a blind spot on racial issues, we don’t mean that his economic policies aren’t important or don’t affect racial minorities. We’re saying that while a good jobs program will certainly alleviate poverty in our communities, it won’t end structural racism.
Last weekend at Netroots Nation—the largest gathering of liberal and progressive activists—Sanders and Martin O’Malley were put to the test when Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted the presidential town hall. Neither candidate handled the interruption well and Sanders was criticized for ignoring racial issues and talking solely about economic issues.
The nine people who were murdered by Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina, were a librarian, an educator, a college graduate, and a state senator—before the murderer pulled the trigger, he did not stop to ask them if they were employed. In March, overzealous Alcoholic Beverage Control officers still violently beat and arrested Martese Johnson, an honors student at University of Virginia—for the alleged crime of having a fake ID. And what about the racism that black children face? Would a job have saved 12-year-old Tamir Rice? Or seven-year-old Aiyana Jones?
I went to private school, have an advanced degree, and have a full-time job, but it doesn’t stop white people from calling me the N-word. Assuming that full-time employment or a college degree will end racism is respectability politics; this idea presumes that if we act a certain way, white people will finally accept us.
As Andrea Cambron wrote for the Prospect last year: “Every run-in that I have had with police has been a negative experience. And I have lived a relatively privileged life.” Before the police arrest you, rough you up, or kill you, they usually don’t ask to see your diploma.
Structural racism in this country needs to be dismantled and we need to hear presidential candidates seriously discuss racism and white supremacy and say that yes, black lives matter. So yes, advocate for jobs, health care, raising the minimum wage, and a chance at an education—but know that while these are great policies, they won’t end racism.