The trades won’t cure the systematic racism Black people face in labor

The trades won’t cure the systematic racism Black people face in labor

The trades will not be the kind of magic bullet the right and the uninformed are touting.

Plumbers can make up to 90K a year which sounds excellent. But this is a result of basic supply and demand. If everyone becomes a plumber, that income will drop. 

Look at what happened to the legal community. 

“The U.S. economy added 136,000 jobs in September, extending gains while still falling below some economists’ expectations. The news was gloomier for the legal industry, which contracted by 0.9% between August and September, losing 900 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest jobs report.” 

— Law, 2019

A law degree used to be the ticket to an upper-middle-class lifestyle. Now we have such a glut of lawyers that law schools are closing their doors. When we add the issue of race, you’ll realize how difficult it is for Black lawyers to maintain a private practice or even get hired at a law firm. Black doctors are also having a challenging time. 

“Almost 23,000 black physicians and 18,000 black physician assistants lost jobs, according to the Stateline analysis of Current Population Survey data provided by ipums.org at the University of Minnesota. At the same time, white physicians gained about 25,000 jobs.”

—Pew Trust, 2020

A Black plumber will have to rely mainly on the Black community, because the racists in the trades will not let Black people into their communities.

If the bad reviews don’t kill your business, the trades police officer cousin will harass you, break your tools, and might literally kill you to stop your business. That is a thing. 

Also, how many times have you called a plumber this year? Did you call the same person, or did you spread your money around?

In addition, the trades are racist

“[I]n 1980, a federal court in Boston found that the oral section of the exam given by the Ironworkers was so subjective and so open to abuse that it had almost no bearing on ability to do the job. For some reason, the court also found, whites almost always passed the test but Blacks almost always failed.”

—Union Construction’s Racial Equity and Inclusion Charade, SSIR

It has always had a massive problem regarding racism with Black people specifically that they have refused to handle. You think the micro-aggression of the office is terrible? 

Blue-collar workplace racism will call you a racial slur to your face then break your tools, if you can get through the door. 

Do you really imagine the average white person will let a Black man in their home fix something and pay union wages and have his own business? 

During Red Summer in the early part of the 20th century, Black tradesmen were the gasoline that made angry white racist mobs burn hundreds of Black towns to the ground. In many parts of the country, that energy has not changed. 

Driving-While-Black, Walking-While-Black, Shopping-While-Black, has always included Working-While-Black.

Black men can’t walk home. 

How are they supposed to create a thriving business that demands autonomy!?

One person making it work does not make a community. There are always exceptions, but everyone being exceptional is not scaleable to the community at large. It’s like the dream of everyone winning the Powerball 200 Million Dollar Lottery.

And while trade school sets you up for the trades, the trades are union pay, but it is also a small business.

If you are Black, you will have great difficulty succeeding in the small trade business unless you have a network of people who can pay union rates. In the 1970s, you could get a Minority Businesses Enterprise (MBE) government contract, which was set aside to encourage minority entrepreneurialism. This has become nearly impossible owing to the City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. Supreme Court decision. 

That case said minority set-asides were unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause

What remains are the unofficial racial barriers and brutal crony capitalism in which government contracts go to the Mayor’s Fortunate Son.

The trade schools will not remain inexpensive once they steer Black people into them. For a greater part of the 20th century, higher education was accessible to most white people. Post-WWII, Bachelor’s Degrees were subsidized and cheap. Public colleges are expensive now because the government stopped subsidizing them after the Civil Rights Movement. Reagan painted them as a handout for lazy Black and Latinx people. 

White people voted for policies to pay more for their children’s education owing to the dog whistle of racism. 

Why would that not also happen with trade school?

Sending people to trade schools is not the cure for racism. First off, for-profit trade schools are generally a scam, and it is not how you get into the trade. 

The trades work with an apprentice program which is a paid internship. It is called an apprenticeship. Most people outside the trades do not understand this. 

So why are right-wing white people and the proudly colonized telling people to PAY for trade school when the trades have an entire system that is not only free, but pays the person to get training?

Insincerity or ignorance?

People who send their children to college who are completely ignorant of how the trades work are advocating sending people to do backbreaking, soon-to-be low-paid work.  

The consequences will be people STILL being in debt and unemployed, because they did not come up through the apprenticeship program.

Also, the trades are a skill, just like physics and art. It’s not a job anyone can do.

The unemployment rate for Black people isn’t because we don’t have the right skills. It isn’t because we don’t have the proper education.

I know plenty of PhDs, lawyers, doctors who can’t make a go at it.

The reason we don’t have jobs and get paid little money is because of racism and capitalism, yes I get that capitalism impacts everyone, not wealthy, but for Black people, we are always the demonstration case for how cruel this country can be.

We are limited to public sector jobs (which is why racist politicians like cutting them so much) because private and corporate America, just the rest of the U.S., is in general extremely racist.

This whole discussion on “the trades” and “21st century skills” is a subtle way to imply that the individual needs to hustle and screw everyone else. It implies the system is fine. You just need the right skill. But here is the fact. The system is NOT fine. Everyone doesn’t NEED to work 40 hours a week. Our system is designed so that some people fail and 9/10 it is the working classes, and often it’s Black people.

You can’t game capitalism. 

Of course, one person will always slip through, but I thought we were supposed to be fighting for everyone. I’m not advocating or encouraging these kick-the-can solutions to people who have been lied to for over 200 years.

The only way to stop this game is to stop playing it and come up with real policies that dismantle the institutional racism in all parts of U.S. labor.


Teka Lo, Public Intellectuals

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