What will America do with 36 million Black Americans now that there is no more cotton to pick? Last summer, I visited Mississippi. This was my first travel to the rural, deep south. To my surprise, I found that Black people were not involved in the planting, growing or harvesting of cotton. Instead, while White and Latino men drove machines that harvested the cotton, I saw hundreds of young Black men standing idle on street corners, drinking alcoholic beverages throughout the day and evening. For Black people in the South, there is no more cotton to pick.
For two centuries, America has exported its brand of democracy and humanism around the world. But now America's values are being tested here at home. America's dilemma is: what to do with 36 million Black Americans who are the descendants of the slaves that were shipped to American shores 400 years ago for their economic value but today their heirs have lost that value? And does anyone know what will happen to the current low status of Black people in America if, and after, tens of millions of new, undocumented immigrants receive citizenship?
Fifty-eight percent of Black boys do not graduate from high school in the United States. Many of the forty-two percent who do will be given diplomas that graduate them to low-wage jobs or no jobs at all, street-corner hustling, incarceration and violent death. In fact, for most of these students, their high school diplomas will not lead to a decent job, acceptance to a good college or even qualify them for military service. At best, most Black students in America are getting an education that prepares them to only pick cotton if there were cotton for them to pick. Even so, according to a report by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, forty-seven percent of non-institutional Black men in Illinois are not working. And many of them are high school graduates. And for these unemployed Black men there are no jobs in America, the America that flourished because of Black slave labor.
At the very same moment that hundreds of thousands of young Black people will be marching into oblivion across graduation stages, hundreds of thousands of foreign students will be preparing to enter our American cities, to attend some of our best schools, to take some of the best jobs in the United States and to earn the salaries that Black Americans need to support their families. While Black America laments the ridiculously high unemployment rates of Black males, hundreds of thousands of HB-1 visa workers will be imported to take jobs paying $70,000 to $90,000 a year and more. Many Blacks will not even be able to get low-wage jobs because they do not speak Spanish.
The dilemma for the government of the United States, as well as for big, urban cities, is that neither has an idea about what to do with the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Black Americans who fled from the South during the Great Migration to a supposedly better existence in the North. But now, the welcome mat has been pulled-up in these cities, and children of slave ancestors who built this country are being thrown out the door. Our cities have tired of their Black populations, and America is now getting out of the Black people business. Neighborhoods that used to be Black Belts, like Harlem in New York City, Bronzeville in Chicago and much of Washington, D.C., have gone upscale, and, as a result, most Blacks cannot afford to live there. In fact, many American Blacks can barely afford to live anywhere in America. So it is back to the South for many of them. This time, however, they will not be allowed to even pick cotton because there's no more cotton for Black Americans to pick.
What are the options for America and the Black people they brought here 400 years ago? These come to mind:
Option one: Let them perish. If they can make it in America, fine. If not, fine.
Option two: Find a new value for them, possibly fueling the growing industrial criminal justice complex, or as "widgets" in the American educational system.
Option three: Help Black people find a proper and productive place in American society. While this might be the most unpopular option, it is probably the easiest and, long term, the cheapest and the best solution.
If America chooses option three, there are five key components to fixing this problem:
1) Rebuild the Black family. Every major problem in the Black community, including poor education, massive unemployment, hyper-incarceration, high mortality rates and senseless violence, can be traced to the disintegration of the Black family.
2) Provide Black boys with strong, positive Black men as mentors, role models and, particularly, a connection to their fathers. Black boys, like any other children, will imitate and become what they see, including good fathers.
3) Control the negative peer culture and electronic media that mold many Black boys and men into violent, irresponsible and uncaring human beings.
4) Understand that for the rest of our existence, Black people will live in a "STEMM" world, a world based on Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine (STEMM). If we are to survive, it will be because we understand and master "STEMM." We must teach Black children accordingly.
5) Control our economic fate by mastering the principles of entrepreneurship, business, management, finance, accounting, manufacturing and banking, and by teaching these principles to our children.
This is the way, and the only way, to solve the problems of Black people in America. Unless we, Black people, quickly respond to the changes of our world, even our cousins on the continent of Africa will not want us. And we will truly be a "lost tribe" wandering the world without a home. We must realize that we live in an "Educate or Die" society and an "Educate or Die" world! There is no middle ground. There is no more cotton to pick!
Phillip Jackson, Founder and Director
The Black Star Project
3473 South King Drive, Box 464
Chicago, Illinois 60616
June 26, 2007
(A picture of Phillip Jackson is available upon request)