When the first African slaves stepped off the ship they were given two things—Christianity in the form of The Holy Bible and a new language… English. Two hundred years later, the descendants of those slaves are now being punished for Mistah’s English Only law.
Unemployed African-Americans have more than just “ethnic” sounding names, criminal records, and their educational background working against them now when trying to pass the first phase of the employment process. Today, almost all job postings either require applicants to speak Spanish or make it clear that they prefer those who do to applicants who don’t.
Like with Toby Waller — or I mean Kunta Kinte in Roots, Black slaves were forced to assimilate into American culture. Whatever God we prayed to, African names we had, and languages we spoke were taken away from us and replaced with whatever Mistah told us.
Two hundred years and several generations later, the majority of Blacks are so far removed from Africa that when asked where they are from they either answer with their city of birth or the “set” they’re from and have no idea what tribe their ancestors hail from let alone their native language. For most African-Americans today, our native language is in fact English.
And while African-Americans were forced to assimilate and learn English, the same can’t be said for our Latino brothers and sisters who have found it easier to just make America learn Spanish and since there’s money to be made—America has seemingly obliged.
But like our President, most African-Americans don’t speak a foreign language. For most of us educated in America’s public education system, learning a foreign language was never a requirement in order to graduate from high school.
Now with over 16 percent of African-Americans unemployed nationwide, we like many other Americans, are finding out the hard way that more and more employers are adding to the job description: Must be bilingual or Spanish speakers preferred.
And this mandate isn’t just with entry level “may I take your order please” jobs. More and more employers from Main Street to Wall Street are giving preference to job applicants who are bilingual.
I don’t personally have a problem with people who come to America from Central American countries and choose not to learn English. What I do have a problem with is turning around and saying to generations of English speaking Americans, in particular African-Americans, that because you don’t speak Spanish, you somehow aren’t qualified to do any job.
Yes, I agree that there are a lot of Spanish speaking Latinos in America and there are some jobs where it helps if employees speak Spanish, but does that mean it should be the industry norm for employers to require that all job applicants speak Spanish in order to even be considered? And if it is, how does this help our Spanish language only friends learn how to assimilate into American culture, which I thought was the goal at the end of the day?
With hundreds of thousands of Blacks unemployed this is not an issue Black lawmakers and civil rights leaders can continue to ignore or one that we can let them continue to ignore.
Simply put–jumping up and down and screaming that Blacks need jobs is not going to get it, neither is playing both sides for fear of being called a racist.
As uncomfortable as it may be for Black leaders to talk about this latest form of employment discrimination against Blacks, it is what it is and no matter how uncomfortable it is for them, it doesn’t come close to how many thousands if not millions of unemployed job applicants feel who don’t make it past the initial application process. Because while they may be qualified for the job in question, they are overlooked because they don’t speak Spanish.
Uncomfortable is having your lights turned off, car repossessed, and losing your home because you haven’t been able to find a job through no fault of your own.
Yes–it’s common for anyone anywhere who brings up anything even remotely negative about Latinos, no matter how true it may be, to be automatically labeled as a racist, but this isn’t a popularity contest.
That said, cable television news sound bites about jobs for Blacks is not going to get it, because if and when those jobs come, if 90 percent of them require applicants to be bilingual, then what? Exactly.
It’s hard to take Black lawmakers and civil rights organizations seriously when they were among the first to champion and support The DREAM Act legislation paving the path to U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants, but haven’t found the wherewithal to address this latest form of employment discrimination that has a direct impact on the very people they are supposed to represent.
At the end of the day, all of the job development programs, job fairs, and town hall meetings mean nothing if employers are hiring us. It’s all for show.
By the same token, lawmakers need to recognize that if employers are going to mandate that job applicants be bilingual in order for employment consideration, lawmakers need to get with the program and require high school students take and pass four years of a foreign language, preferably Spanish, in order to be eligible for a high school diploma. Not doing so amounts to setting up future generations of non-Spanish speakers for the same failure faced today by their parents and grandparents. For adult workers, providing access to foreign language classes to those interested at no cost should be on the agenda.
Is it racist to ask that employers hire non-Spanish speaking Americans for jobs in America? I’d say it’s no more racist than it is to ask that job applicants in Mexico speak Spanish or those seeking employment in China speak Chinese.
Last I checked, this is still America and until Wikipedia changes it, English is still the official language.
There’s a difference between speaking to us and for us and for African-Americans the bottom line is that if Black lawmakers and civil rights organizations, particularly those whose sole mission is to fight for the economic empowerment of Blacks, refuse to talk us and really address this issue instead of just speaking for us, then maybe they don’t need to be representing us.
A former press secretary in California State Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives, Jasmyne A. Cannick is a communications strategist who writes about the intersection race, sex, politics, and pop culture from an unapologetically Black point of view. Follow her on Twitter @jasmyne and on Facebook at /jasmyne.
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