Thursday, February 24, 2011

No pain, no gain

I remember when Oprah Winfrey was on CNN trumpeting her “Leadership School for Girls” in South Africa—that is, after the scandal about motherly matrons physically and sexually abusing their young charges, a story which Winfrey used her considerable wealth and influence to squash from media exposure. It is not just men there who are guilty of violence; I read somewhere that Jennifer Hudson is to star in a biopic of the “saintly” Winnie Mandela, whose track record to date suggests that she has a spot reserved someplace other than Heaven. Nelson Mandela divorced her, since having a “first lady” employing “bloodthirsty” rhetoric, involved in kidnapping and murder, and convicted of fraud and theft is somewhat awkward; nonetheless, although Winnie Mandela was reportedly upset that she wasn’t allowed script approval, I doubt that there will be much in this film to tarnish her image.
Anyways, Anderson Cooper asked Winfrey why she was spending so much money in South Africa when so many black youth in the U.S. were being failed by the education system. Winfrey claimed that in the U.S., girls had a choice to go to school, while in South Africa, they didn’t. This is gender politicking at its most disingenuous; in South Africa, a 2010 World Bank study showed that girls have had equal access to, and participation in, primary and secondary schools since the end of Apartheid—at a time when boys were also “discouraged” by the government from going to school. The problem in South Africa, as demonstrated by a report during the recent World Cup in that country, is that the education is poor for everyone; children—boys and girls—are seen sitting silently in a classroom all day. Where is the teacher? Shooting the breeze with other teachers in the break room. The principle admitted that his school had “problems” with getting teachers to teach. So in a way, Winfrey’s charges are getting an “unfair” advantage over other South African youth of both sexes. As journalist Daniel Ben-Ami stated in the Economist recently, the West’s interference in the personal and spiritual lives of people in developing country’s may improve the self-esteem of a few people, but accomplishes nothing in the long-term when a country’s basic economic system is unchanged—just more unhappy people. This isn’t the 1950s or 1960s anymore when the U.S. was actually was promoting economic equality on a national scale. Now it is doing just enough to make people feel “better” about themselves, even if they still live in poverty; perhaps Oprah will buy all the school’s graduates a new car if they can’t find a job—or maybe she’ll buy them a job. Lot of luck; in South Africa, after all, it is the white minority that still pulls the economic strings.

But just to show you I am an equal-opportunity offender, I was motivated to rehash the above old story after reading a recent newspaper story about the National (White) Women’s Law Center complaining about what their statistics are showing a so-called “masculine” tone to what is still a rather slow job recovery. Note that the white women who run such organizations didn’t complain when their demographic has had, and continues to have, the lowest unemployment rate among all demographics; according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for white women 20 years and older was as of this past January 7.2 percent—still far below the national average. For black men it was 18.4 percent (twice that of white men), and 12.9 percent for black women; for Hispanic men and women, it is 13 and 11.5 percent. In “good” times, these numbers only change proportionally; the unemployment rate for black men has never dipped below 10 percent in recent memory. When white women move into the job market, it is not white men who have to move aside. The interesting thing about the current economic situation is that men had to bear the brunt of the recession as the private manufacturing sector shed jobs, while jobs dependent on government funding—such as public education, health care and government bureaucracy—which are top-heavy in female employees, were temporarily saved by federal stimulus money, but are finding life much more difficult now that state governments are taking a chainsaw to their budgets. Complaints that some manufacturing jobs are coming back, and that men who suffered layoffs while women still remained employed were being rehired is simply more tiresome sour grapes from these advocates who have no sense of fairness or balance.

When I was living in Sacramento I needed to start making some money, so I signed-on to a temp agency. I was sent to some firm that employed people sitting in cubicles doing mailer piece-work. It wasn’t my kind of work, but I wasn’t exactly in a position to complain, and I expected to hang around until at least this particular mailer was done. When the day was done, the supervisor, some young light-haired white man with an affected air of self-satisfaction and phony friendliness, had us all come up to the front and started counting off each person, starting with the white women regardless of where they stood in the group. Coincidentally, when he counted the last white female, that accounted for all the people he would be needing going forward; the rest of us—black, Latino, a couple white men—would need to seek employment elsewhere. I remember thinking that he had just selected his harem. We sat in the supervisor’s office waiting for our time cards to be signed. I was privately steaming, not because the job wasn’t going to last as long as I had been told, but by the nature of the decision-making process about who would stay and who wouldn’t. I was looking at all the black faces sitting there and thinking “Don’t they care about what just transpired?” I finally couldn’t help myself, and blurted-out “You know, we need to work to.” Everyone stared at me in shock and surprise, but remained silent; somehow I think they understood less my point than amazed at this troublemaking loose cannon who would surely be reported to the temp agency for being a troublemaking loose cannon. After all, an employer can do whatever they wish; if they just want to hire white women, if only for self-aggrandizing personal reasons, they have a right to do that.

This particularly kind of hiring discrimination has gone on so long that now advocates and the media try to explain it as terms of “empowerment” and “equality” in order to avoid discussing the realities that other demographics must face when they go on a job search. Even in Oprah’s world, the only people who really have choice are the white women who form the core of her “fan” base. Don’t ask me to feel sorry for them now.

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