When I hear that something is part of ‘the fight for racial justice’ I immediately am struck by what passes for racial justice these days.
Case and point the minimum wage.
The Reverend William Barber has a piece at In These Times that frames the $15 an-hour minimum wage as a racial issue.
Here’s the truth: the fight to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 is as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For Black people, it’s taken us 400 years to get to $7.25 an hour. We can’t wait any longer. People in Appalachia can’t wait any longer. Poor white people, brown people, we cannot wait any longer. And we won’t be silent anymore.
Fifty-seven years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. called for a $2 an hour minimum wage, which would be over $15 today. A few weeks ago, all the politicians were saying, let’s follow Dr. King. Let’s hear Dr. King’s message of love. Well you can’t hear the message of love without hearing the love and the justice connected together. To go backwards on this would be morally indefensible, constitutionally inconsistent and economically insane.
We cannot address racial equity if we do not address the minimum wage of $15. There’s no such thing as racial equity when you just address police reform and prisons but you don’t address the issue of economic justice. And if you address economic justice, guess what? It helps Black people, and white people, and brown people, and Latino people. It helps everybody. Everybody in, nobody out.
The idea that justice for all is as much about economic justice as anything is true. That racial justice is tied to the minimum wage is racist in and of itself.
Why the minimum wage? Why just $15 an-hour?
Where are the columns advocating for high-paying skilled labor jobs? Fitters can make six figures in this country. Where are the calls for middle class, white collar jobs that help black and brown families buy homes and leave wealth to their kids?
The insistence on a minimum wage is tied to the racism of low expectations.
The powers that be see black and brown people as living in ghettos, living off of welfare. The racism of low expectations says ‘These people can’t do better, so they need our benevolence.’ That is nonsense.
The Brookings Institute a few years back looked at how far blacks have come economically in this country.
In 1940, 60 percent of employed black women worked as domestic servants; today the number is down to 2.2 percent, while 60 percent hold white- collar jobs.
In 1958, 44 percent of whites said they would move if a black family became their next door neighbor; today the figure is 1 percent.
In 1964, the year the great Civil Rights Act was passed, only 18 percent of whites claimed to have a friend who was black; today 86 percent say they do, while 87 percent of blacks assert they have white friends.
Progress is the largely suppressed story of race and race relations over the past half-century. And thus it’s news that more than 40 percent of African Americans now consider themselves members of the middle class. Forty-two percent own their own homes, a figure that rises to 75 percent if we look just at black married couples. Black two-parent families earn only 13 percent less than those who are white. Almost a third of the black population lives in suburbia.
Because these are facts the media seldom report, the black underclass continues to define black America in the view of much of the public. Many assume blacks live in ghettos, often in high-rise public housing projects. Crime and the welfare check are seen as their main source of income. The stereotype crosses racial lines. Blacks are even more prone than whites to exaggerate the extent to which African Americans are trapped in inner-city poverty. In a 1991 Gallup poll, about one-fifth of all whites, but almost half of black respondents, said that at least three out of four African Americans were impoverished urban residents. And yet, in reality, blacks who consider themselves to be middle class outnumber those with incomes below the poverty line by a wide margin.
But we don’t hear their voices. Why?
Much of it is the race hustle. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have made millions by playing black against white, poor black and against rich white, and so on.
But there is also the racism of white liberal elites. They firmly believe they are better than us all. (Just listen to their views on Trump supporters) And they firmly believe that they have to ‘do something’ to help these poor blacks who cannot overcome.
Treating someone differently because of their skin color is racism. Even if you think you are helping.
As we get ready to talk about the minimum wage, ask yourself this. Who aspires to have a minimum wage job? Who’s career goal is flipping burgers or washing dishes? People take jobs for all sorts of reasons, and their reasons sometimes force them into a minimum wage job. But if we are setting our sights higher, why not set them on careers that pay instead of jobs that don’t.
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