Excerpted from: Clarence Lusane, Persisting
Disparities: Globalization and the Economic Status of African Americans
, 2 Howard Law Journal 431-450, 436-439 , 450 (Spring 1999) (118
Writing during the economic boom of the 1960s and 1970s, scholar
Sidney Wilhelm argued that African Americans were being made obsolete as
workers by new technologies and automation. He wrote,
with the onset of automation, the Negro moves out of his historical
state of oppression into one of uselessness. Increasingly, he is not so
much economically exploited as he is irrelevant. The tremendous
historical change is taking place in these terms: he is not needed ...
white America, by a more perfect application of mechanization and a
vigorous reliance upon automation, disposes of the Negro; consequently,
the Negro transforms from an exploited labor force into an outcast.
With profound insight, Wilhelm notes that
an underestimation of the technological revolution can only lead to
an underestimation of the concomitant racial revolution from
exploitation to uselessness; to misjudge the present as but a
continuation of industrialization rather than the dawn of a new
technological era, assures an inability to anticipate the vastly
different system of race relations awaiting the displaced Negro.
What Wilhelm correctly anticipated was the impact of globalized
production on the employment and economic life of the black community.
Deindustrialization is one aspect of a global economic restructuring
that has resulted from new productive, information, communication, and
computer technologies. In the 1970s and 1980s, while all U.S.
manufacturing workers have been affected by factories moving from the
United States to other nations, black workers have been especially hard
hit in cities such as St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and
Pittsburgh. In these cities, African Americans comprise a significant
percentage of the population. In Philadelphia, 64 percent of the
manufacturing jobs were lost, resulting in the elimination of 160,000
jobs. In Chicago, the figure was 60 percent (326,000 jobs), in New York,
58 percent(520,000 jobs), and in Detroit, 51 percent (108,000 jobs).
African Americans are also situated in regions of the nation that have
suffered the most from deindustrialization. According to economist
Lester Henry, "Plant closings in the 1970s ... were heaviest in the
Northeast and in the old South, the two areas of the country where
African Americans are most populous."
For those African Americans who have less than a college education,
the loss of manufacturing jobs seriously undermines their opportunities
for employment. Researchers John Bound and Richard Freeman contend that
"up to half of the huge employment declines for less-educated
blacks might be explained by industrial shifts away from manufacturing
toward other sectors."
In recent years, there has been a shift toward reindustrialization in
the United States. This development, however, is not necessarily good
news for African Americans. A number of scholars have speculated that
racial discrimination plays a role in the decisions regarding where new
plants (and new jobs) are placed by foreign investors. While evidence is
scarce, some believe that new plants are deliberately placed outside of
the accessibility range of inner-city residents who are
disproportionately African American in many areas. Political scientist
Robert Smith, for instance, points to "[a] study of the location
decisions of Japanese firms in the United States and of American auto
companies found a fairly consistent pattern of locations in rural and
suburban areas about thirty miles from the nearest concentration of
blacks, a distance thought to be about the limits of worker commuter
time." Similarly, economist Lester Henry notes, "The pattern
of firms, both foreign and domestic, when choosing sites for opening new
plants, has been away from predominantly nonwhite areas ... . The
Japanese and other German firms have also shown a similar preference for
plant location in suburban and sunbelt areas where few nonwhites
reside." Even if premeditation is not present, the consequences of
these site decisions exacerbate the job search crisis growing among the
urban black poor.
As the General Accounting Office (GAO) noted, however, it was not
only in manufacturing that black job loss was disproportionate. In a
study on the impact of the changing economy and the recession of the
early 1990s on minorities, the GAO noted, "[b]lacks were the only
racial group to suffer a net job loss during the 1990-91 economic
downturn." The study covered a wide range of firms and many
different levels of occupations from blue-collar to white-collar.
In the public sector, black job cuts have also been disproportionate.
According to the San Jose Mercury, when the federal government downsized
in 1992, blacks were fired at more than twice the rate of whites. The
Mercury stated, "[b]lacks who were 17 percent of the executive
branch workforce in 1992 were 39 percent of those dismissed. Whites made
up 72 percent of the workforce and only 48 percent of those fired."
The newspaper went on to say,
[i]t's not that [blacks] have less education, experience, and
seniority. The difference has nothing to do with job performance ... .
Blacks are fired more often because of their skin color ... . Rank
didn't help. Black senior managers were out the door as often as black
clerks. It gets worse. The deck is stacked against fired minority
workers with legitimate grounds for reinstatement, the study shows. They
win only one in every 100 appeals.
In addition, a GAO study found that African Americans more than
whites or Latinos "experience the longest spells of unemployment
among displaced workers who eventually found jobs and showed the largest
loss in wages in their new jobs."
These general trends have been compounded by recent regional and
international trade agreements. While these pacts are not racial in
character or construction, that they have a racial dimension should not
be ignored. NAFTA, GATT, and the proposed MAI have had significant
impact on the U.S. economy, and by extrapolation, on the African
. . .
Globalization is neither inherently bad nor good. It is a process of
development that involves many actors attempting to meet their own
interests and objectives in an environment that links local, national,
and international concerns. The critical questions confronting all of
these constituencies are how will this process be managed and in whose
interest will it speak. In this context, African Americans must raise
their voices and participate in the discourses that are shaping global
policy, politics, and economics. While race does not necessarily govern,
in all instances, the unfolding of globalization, its presence must not
be either ignored or silently sanctioned.
Labor organizations, environmental groups, and others have called for
a revocation and rewriting of NAFTA. Although this is unlikely to occur,
future trade pacts must be more democratic in their creation and more
sensitive to the issues raised by these groups and other communities who
desire "fair" trade and not just free trade policies. Along
these lines, African-American activists and intellectuals must engage
themselves in the policy construction process regarding foreign economic
policy. At a minimum, future trade pacts should include:
. Provisions for monitoring and correcting racial and gender concerns
. Provisions for affirmative action and, where appropriate, minority
. Mechanisms for enforcement of the above
It is in the interest of the Black community to become familiar with
the strategies and tactics of lobbying in this arena. As globalization
continues to grow, related issues affecting African Americans will
expand and require political and policy responses. A critical need will
be to develop cross- national alliances and cooperation with groups in
the developed and developing worlds who face similar situations.