As old forms of discrimination disappear, new ones arise. The NAACP president describes an injustice that’s hitting particularly hard during the recession.
Question: What brand-new problems have arisen for African-Americans in the past decade?
Ben Jealous: Sure. I mean, since September 11th, for blacks and for whites, there have become new pernicious forms of employment discrimination. And in the wake of September 11th, there were stories about ex-felons working in baggage claim at airports. And the response was, first by the companies that produce the sort of job applications for low level public jobs. And then throughout private industry was to put a check box on the front of the job application that says, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime." Well, as you might imagine, when you're a hiring manager and the box is checked, it just goes right in the trash. We literally changed hundreds of years of tradition in this country where people were only asked that question in a job interview. Once a company decided that they were interested in them, and then they were able to explain themselves. And we put it on the application, where it just goes in the trash. And you discouraged people from applying and you typically preclude them from being considered.
Now, in this country, it's harder for a black man with no criminal record to find a job than a white man with a criminal record, which is to say that race is actually a bigger factor than ex-felon status. But if you're both, it's almost impossible to find a job. And that's an area that we've been really working on very intently. As we've been working on this issue, what's come to our attention is that credit scores are being used in much of the same way. Imagine, the middle of a recession, our employers across the country have increasingly begun to use credit scores to determine whether or not they hire somebody. I mean, it would be a joke if it wasn't so serious, right? It's absolutely the opposite thing of what you do. Take a country of people who are in financial distress, the ones who are most in financially distressed are the ones that are least likely for us to hire them.
And so we have found ourselves fighting on new fronts, on still carrying the banner for racial equality, but also understanding that in the 21st century we have to fight for simply human equality as well. And that really, for the NAACP, people don’t realize, you know we weren't founded like so many groups after like the Black Power Movement, or the Chicano Power Movements. We were founded in 1909 on the hundredth birthday of President Lincoln. And our dream has always been to manifest his dream, that this be one country where all people are treated with equality and dignity and have the ability for the children to be raised with hope and for the children to have the opportunity to gain prosperity.
Recorded March 10th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen