Say Donald Trump, What Are 'Black Jobs'?
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Say Donald Trump, What Are 'Black Jobs'?

The notion that Black people are supposed to be the chief manual laborers in this country is inherently racist.

Just as scientists can detect the presence of a black hole without seeing it with the naked eye, Black people can recognize racism expressed under the thin guise of concern. Comments made by former President Trump at last night’s presidential debate illustrate this point. Trump claimed President Biden’s immigration policies harm Black Americans — “His big kill on Black people is the millions of people that he’s allowed to come in through the border. They’re taking black jobs.” While he made a pitch to Black Americans, he executed this plan with the grace of a bull in a china shop.

First and foremost, his rhetoric fed into the “great replacement theory,” popular among white nationalists, which suggests immigrants are replacing American citizens. However, there is no evidence to suggest that’s actually happening. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 4% in 2023, indicating the majority of adults are gainfully employed. Americans are putting in the work, but far too many are living check-to-check, and the cost of living is rising. The problem Trump and many other White Americans seem to miss in discussions about the low Black unemployment rate is the role low pay plays in undermining that achievement. What does it matter if most Black Americans have a job if, ultimately, they do not make enough to buy food, clothing, transportation, or a home? Unemployment was low during chattel slavery, too, but no historian would claim their labors enriched them.

Related: The Reality Behind the Great Replacement Theory

While conservatives often claim that immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans, the truth is they’re filling in the gaps caused by demographic changes. Daniel Costa and Heidi Shierholz found that “immigrants make up 18.6% of the U.S. labor force” and play a key role in “numerous industries and are employed in a mix of lower, middle, and higher-wage jobs.” During the debate, Trump employed the classic divide-and-conquer strategy, trying to portray Biden’s immigration policies as harmful to the black community. This scarcity mindset is toxic, as it will not alleviate the racial wealth gap disparities or improve Black people’s access to higher-paying jobs. And perhaps most importantly, the difficulties Black Americans face in this country are not because of an influx of immigrants but because white Americans oppose policies designed to level the playing field.

In addition to the xenophobia Trump attempted to ferment within the black community, his word choice of “black jobs” exposes his endorsement of the racist stereotype that Black people are only fit for certain jobs. “What is a Black job?” many asked after Trump’s faux pas. Inadvertently, he exposed the racial hierarchy that often seems invisible to the naked eye. Just as scientists can detect a black hole by observing how it bends and distorts light, a phenomenon called “gravitational lensing,” Black people can recognize racism by observing the context surrounding the statements made.

What are Black jobs?

When a CBS reporter asked Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, “What are Black jobs,” in the spin room after the debate, he responded by parroting and defending Trump’s talking point, claiming that migrants’ willingness to work for low wages in “fields like construction and trades,” takes opportunities away from Black Americans. Of course, it is illegal to pay anyone, regardless of their race or ethnicity, less than minimum wage in this country. However, wealthy white people often exploit the desperate position many migrants and refugees find themselves in to pay them less. It is not immigrants’ choice to make less money — they are doing what they can to provide for themselves and their families. Furthermore, the notion that Black people are supposed to be the chief manual laborers in this country is inherently racist.

Related: America Was the Biggest Loser Last Night

As the daughter of a Black lawyer and petroleum engineer and the granddaughter of a mathematician, carpenter and sharecropper, a teacher, and a homemaker, I’m astutely aware that Black people are capable of performing any job they please. The notion that Black people are only fit for some jobs and not others is a clear case of Bayesian Racism, where someone endorses a racial stereotype to justify their racist attitudes and beliefs. Trump did not say that migrants were taking away jobs from Americans in general — he specifically said “Black jobs,” which implies he believes that low-paying jobs that many migrants typically secure should be reserved for Black Americans. Trump seems to think Black people belong in a field harvesting crops, working on construction sites, and doing manual labor.

Just as the reflection of light from surrounding celestial bodies exposes the presence of a black hole, Trump’s statement about “Black jobs” exposes the racial hierarchy that positions Black people at the lowest rung. If you are to learn only one lesson from this debacle, let it be this— that no job exists that Black people cannot perform; we are not limited in potential despite living in a society filled with barriers to Black life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

How dare Donald Trump claim that immigrants are taking “Black jobs” when his Republican party refuses to treat Black Americans with dignity or show the slightest concern for their condition. They refuse to support legislation raising the minimum wage beyond $7.25 an hour. We’re talking about a political party that actively gutted voting rights protections, refuses to support women’s rights, and tries with all its might to remove black historical narratives from the classroom. Not to mention their steadfast resistance to restorative justice for the descendants of chattel slavery. Trump has proposed nothing to alleviate the suffering caused by the racial wealth gap — their emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Black Americans are not underemployed, nor are they in a zero-sum game of competition with migrants — both groups are systematically underpaid for their efforts. And Trump proposes nothing to alleviate the suffering caused by the racial wealth gap.

There is no such thing as a “black job” because there are no positions that a White person could inherently perform better than a Black person. Contrary to racist stereotypes, Black people are not born only to perform manual labor — we are capable of quite literally charting a path to the moon, as Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden did, inventing traffic lights as Garrett Morgan did, inventing the first home security system as Marie Van Brittan Brown did, or creating the world’s first colored display for a personal computer as Mark Dean did. Black people do not have limited abilities — racism limits their opportunities. And that is what so many Black Americans are fighting for, to ensure a rising tide will lift all boats in this country one day. Then, racial equity will no longer be a dream deferred; it will be fulfilled.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of Allison Gaines' work on Medium.